Project SyndicateProject Syndicate

China’s autocracy in crisis

By Ian Buruma

09 Jan 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

In Project Syndicate, author Ian Buruma claims that President Xi Jinping’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and his erratic decision-making have highlighted the flaws in China’s one-party regime.

NEW YORK – Until fairly recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping touted his zero-COVID policy as proof that authoritarian one-party states like China are better equipped to deal with pandemics (or any other crisis) than messy democracies hampered by selfish politicians and fickle electorates.

This might have seemed plausible to many in 2020, when hundreds of thousands of Americans were dying and former US President Donald Trump was touting antimalaria drugs and bleach injections as COVID-19 remedies. Meanwhile, Xi enforced rigid pandemic restrictions that almost shut down the entire country, forced people into isolation camps, and insisted that Chinese citizens traveling abroad wear hazmat suits, like workers in some giant toxic laboratory. For a while, this strict regime appeared to keep COVID deaths to a minimum, compared to most other countries (though Chinese government statistics are notoriously unreliable).

Sign in to informed

  • Curated articles from premium publishers, ad-free
  • Concise Daily Briefs with quick-read summaries
  • Read, listen, save for later, or enjoy offline
  • Enjoy personalized content