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2022.09.09 Zero COVID已经失去了它的作用。

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发表于 2022-9-26 23:55:06 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式

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Zero COVID Has Outlived Its Usefulness. Here’s Why China Is Still Enforcing It.
The Communist Party’s real priority is protecting itself, not the public.

By Michael Schuman
A photo of a Chinese health worker in hazmat suit emerging from behind a fenced enclosure
Kevin Frayer / Getty
SEPTEMBER 9, 2022
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The world has moved on from the coronavirus pandemic—except for China. Chinese leaders continue to lock down some of the country’s largest cities, spend millions of dollars on testing, and hunt down individual case after individual case. Nothing—neither a sinking economy nor the availability of vaccines and improved treatments nor the country’s growing isolation—has persuaded the leadership to change course. The latest wave of lockdowns has largely confined millions to their homes: Just two of those lockdowns, involving the southwestern metropolis of Chengdu and the tech hub of Shenzhen, affected a combined population roughly equivalent to all of Canada’s.


The reasons China won’t budge from its strict COVID controls lie deep within the workings of the Chinese Communist Party, especially under its current boss, President Xi Jinping. The zero-COVID policy, a mandate that cases of infection must be kept at or near zero, ceased to be about public health a long time ago. It is all about politics now—and that’s why it is difficult to discern when, or even if, Beijing will abandon the policy.

Beijing’s rigid approach to managing the coronavirus outbreak is a consequence of the country’s authoritarian governance. That system had some advantages in the early stages of the pandemic, almost three years ago, when the Chinese state’s extensive apparatus of repression gave it far greater means to confine and control the public than most liberal-democratic governments could muster. Over time, though, the pandemic has exposed how an inflexible autocracy that lacks the legitimacy conferred by the ballot box can become fixed into dangerous and self-defeating patterns of policy and behavior. That is precisely the position Beijing occupies today, as it clings desperately to zero COVID.

When the outbreak began in Wuhan in early 2020, the virus was unknown, vaccines were unavailable, and China’s poorly equipped health system could have quickly become overwhelmed by a sweeping pandemic. Yet the policy had a political element from the very beginning as well. The Communist Party is adept at sniffing out threats to its rule, and it quickly identified COVID as one of them. A major public-health crisis, with millions dying, would have raised serious doubts about the regime’s competence, which is, in effect, its sole claim to legitimacy.

Read: China’s costly exceptionalism

Worse, the party could have faced a populace that directly blamed it for the outbreak—with good reason. The Chinese authorities at both the national and local levels botched their initial response to the novel coronavirus, suppressing information about its discovery by a Wuhan doctor and acting far too slowly to contain the initial spread. Sensing its potential vulnerability, the party shifted into anti-COVID overdrive, shutting down large swaths of the country, with the result that it did succeed in snuffing out an epidemic in a matter of weeks, even as it spread to the rest of the world.

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That success allowed the Communist Party to transform a potential tragedy into a public-relations triumph. Within weeks of the Wuhan outbreak, China’s propaganda machine was touting the wonders of its virus-busting methods. And as the U.S. and other Western countries struggled to contain the disease, Beijing’s big win became even more valuable as evidence that its authoritarian system was more capable and caring than any democratic one. Beijing and its advocates pointed to rising case and death counts in the U.S. as proof of China’s superiority and American decline.

Furthermore, the victory of zero COVID was claimed not just as the party’s but as Xi Jinping’s in particular. The State Council, China’s highest governing body, declared in a 2020 white paper that Xi had “taken personal command, planned the response, overseen the general situation and acted decisively, pointing the way forward in the fight against the epidemic.”

This narrative became entrenched. If Beijing loosened up and allowed COVID to run amok, the Chinese system would appear no better than those of loser democracies, and Xi would seem like another failing politician, a mere mortal, not the virus-fighting superhero he was painted as. Zero COVID’s failure would be a disaster for the Communist Party’s veneer of infallibility.

So the leadership insists on zero COVID and damn the consequences. The economy, stifled by the lockdowns and other controls, inched upward just 0.4 percent in the second quarter of this year, an astonishingly meager rate by China’s historical standards. Local governments have been overburdened by the costs of pandemic prevention and are running out of cash. (By one estimate, from Joerg Wuttke, the president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, the bill for a single round of city-wide testing in Shanghai was about $30 million.) International business sentiment toward the country has soured.


Signs of discontent among China’s citizens are growing. During Shanghai’s two-month lockdown earlier this year, residents who had been shut in their homes without sufficient food began protesting by banging pots and pans and screaming out their windows. This highly unusual public display of anger at the government drew a predictably repressive response from the authorities, who cordoned off apartment blocks with fences as though the city’s inhabitants were rebelling against the policy.

In the party’s dogmatic adherence to its plan, zero COVID is beginning to resemble China’s former one-child policy. For decades the Communist Party maintained that stricture, which limited most urban-dwelling families to a single child, even as the country’s looming demographic disaster became obvious. The harshly enforced policy became so entwined with the party’s agenda that to retreat from it seemed impossible. Although the government finally rescinded the policy, it did so only gradually, to avoid giving any impression that it accepted its mistake.

Read: China’s ‘very dangerous trajectory’

Zero COVID may follow the same pattern. Hopes are rising that Xi will relent on the policy after next month’s 20th Communist Party Congress, at which he is widely expected to break with modern precedent in China’s leadership and claim a third term in power. Once he has secured his position, the thinking goes, Xi will have greater flexibility to change direction.

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That is possible. But equally so is that Xi decides to keep zero COVID, or some form of it, in place. Given his close association with the policy, Xi could insist on retaining it as central to his political authority. Over his decade of rule, Xi has shown a clear preference for extending both the state’s control over society and his personal grip on the government. Zero COVID has offered a potent way to achieve those aims.

The additional layers of high-tech surveillance adopted in the name of pandemic prevention can be used to enhance the tracking and monitoring of the populace more generally. The policy has also empowered local wardens on neighborhood committees, which have been tasked with enforcing zero COVID’s edicts at a block level. That civilian army of petty officials can be a tool to impose greater state oversight of China’s sprawling cities. The restrictions on international travel that were adopted to minimize COVID transmission could become a way to limit Chinese citizens’ exposure to outside information and influence—the physical equivalent of China’s digital Great Firewall.

Whichever course Xi chooses, a couple of conclusions can be drawn from China’s COVID response. First, economic development is no longer the Communist Party’s top priority. Over the preceding 30 years, Chinese officials could be counted on to place a high rate of growth before all other concerns. Xi’s stand on zero COVID despite its costs suggests that the party now favors political and social control over economic progress.

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Read: When Biden went to China

Second, Beijing ranks politics above science—a politics that, under Xi, has become inflected with nationalism. The Chinese authorities have relied on homegrown vaccines and refused to employ more effective alternatives developed by Western companies. These could offer China’s leaders more options in managing the coronavirus, but they likely want to avoid any semblance of depending on the West for aid.

A science-led approach to vaccination has figured notably little in China’s anti-COVID strategy. Although the government promoted vaccines, and boasts a strong rate of vaccination, it has not adjusted its virus-fighting methods to their potential benefits. In Beijing, for instance, residents require a recent negative test to dine in a restaurant or ride the subway, but no certification of vaccination. Vaccines, of course, do not prevent all infections but do offer good protection against serious illness or death. If the metric that counts is zero cases, vaccination is not a priority. But this, again, suggests that managing the party’s image, not the public’s health, has become zero COVID’s purpose.

The COVID pandemic has exposed the political vulnerabilities of modern societies of all types, democratic as well as autocratic. In the U.S., Washington’s failure to control the pandemic laid bare the problems inherent in the country’s highly polarized, partisan politics. In China, the pandemic has highlighted the dangers of an authoritarian government that is not responsible to the people. With no accountability, the state can do what is best for the state. For Xi Jinping, that works just fine.

Michael Schuman is a contributing writer at The Atlantic, and the author of Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World and The Miracle: The Epic Story of Asia’s Quest for Wealth.
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Zero COVID已经失去了它的作用。这就是为什么中国仍然在执行它。
共产党的真正重点是保护自己,而不是保护公众。

作者:迈克尔-舒曼
一张穿着防毒服的中国卫生工作者从围栏后面走出来的照片。
Kevin Frayer / Getty
9月9日,2022年
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世界已经从冠状病毒的大流行中走出来了--除了中国。中国领导人继续封锁该国最大的一些城市,花费数百万美元进行测试,并追捕一个又一个的个体病例。没有任何东西--无论是不断下滑的经济,还是疫苗和改进的治疗方法的可用性,或者是国家的日益孤立--能够说服领导人改变方向。最近一波的封锁行动在很大程度上将数百万人限制在家中。在这些封锁中,仅有两处涉及西南大都市成都和科技中心深圳,影响的人口总数大约相当于整个加拿大。


中国不会从其严格的COVID控制中让步的原因在于中国共产党的运作,尤其是在其现任领导人习近平主席的领导下。零COVID政策,即规定感染病例必须保持在或接近零的水平,很久以前就不再是关于公共卫生的问题了。它现在完全与政治有关--这就是为什么很难辨别北京何时,甚至是否会放弃这项政策。

北京管理冠状病毒爆发的僵硬方法是该国威权治理的结果。这种制度在大流行病的早期阶段有一些优势,几乎是三年前,当时中国国家广泛的镇压机器使其限制和控制公众的手段远远超过大多数自由民主政府所能做到的。不过,随着时间的推移,这种大流行病暴露了一个缺乏灵活性的专制政府如何在缺乏投票箱赋予的合法性的情况下,固定在危险和自毁的政策和行为模式中。这正是北京今天所处的位置,因为它拼命地坚持零COVID。

当2020年初在武汉开始爆发时,病毒是未知的,疫苗是不可用的,而中国装备简陋的卫生系统可能很快就会被一场全面的大流行病所淹没。然而,这项政策从一开始就有一个政治因素。共产党善于嗅出对其统治的威胁,并迅速将COVID确定为其中之一。一场重大的公共卫生危机,数百万人死亡,会使人们对该政权的能力产生严重怀疑,而这实际上是其唯一的合法性主张。

阅读。中国代价高昂的例外主义

更糟的是,该党可能会面临民众直接指责它对疫情爆发的责任--有充分的理由。中国政府在国家和地方层面上对新型冠状病毒的最初反应都很糟糕,压制了关于武汉医生发现冠状病毒的信息,在控制最初的传播方面行动太慢。感受到其潜在的脆弱性,该党转向反冠状病毒的超速发展,关闭了全国大片地区,其结果是它确实在几周内成功扼杀了一场流行病,即使它蔓延到世界其他地方。

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这一成功使共产党得以将一场潜在的悲剧转化为公共关系的胜利。在武汉疫情爆发后的几周内,中国的宣传机器就开始吹嘘其破除病毒方法的神奇之处。当美国和其他西方国家努力控制这种疾病时,北京的大胜变得更加有价值,证明其威权制度比任何民主制度更有能力和爱心。北京和它的倡导者指出,美国的病例和死亡人数不断增加,证明了中国的优势和美国的衰落。

此外,零COVID的胜利不仅被宣称是党的胜利,而且特别是习近平的胜利。中国的最高管理机构--国务院在2020年的一份白皮书中宣布,习近平 "亲自指挥,计划应对,监督大局,果断行动,为抗击疫情指明了方向"。

这种说法变得根深蒂固。如果中国政府放松警惕,允许COVID肆意妄为,那么中国的制度似乎不会比那些失败的民主国家更好,而习近平似乎又是一个失败的政治家,一个凡人,而不是他被描绘成的抗击病毒的超级英雄。零COVID的失败对于共产党的无懈可击的外衣来说是一场灾难。

因此,领导层坚持零COVID,并诅咒其后果。被封锁和其他控制措施扼杀的经济,在今年第二季度仅上升了0.4%,以中国的历史标准来看,这是一个令人吃惊的微薄速度。地方政府因预防大流行病的费用而负担过重,正在耗尽现金。(根据中国欧盟商会主席Joerg Wuttke的估计,在上海进行的单轮全市性测试的费用约为3000万美元)。国际商业界对中国的感情已经变淡。


中国公民不满的迹象也在增加。在今年早些时候上海为期两个月的封锁期间,被关在家里没有足够食物的居民开始通过敲打锅碗瓢盆和向窗外尖叫来进行抗议。这种极不寻常的对政府的愤怒表现引起了当局可预见的镇压反应,他们用栅栏封锁了公寓区,仿佛该市的居民在反抗这一政策。

在党对其计划的教条式坚持中,零COVID开始类似于中国以前的独生子女政策。几十年来,共产党一直坚持这一规定,将大多数城市居民家庭限制在一个孩子的范围内,即使中国迫在眉睫的人口灾难变得明显。这项严格执行的政策与党的议程紧密相连,以至于似乎不可能退缩。尽管政府最终取消了这一政策,但它只是逐步地这样做,以避免给人留下任何接受其错误的印象。

阅读。中国的 "非常危险的轨迹

Zero COVID可能遵循同样的模式。在下个月的中国共产党第二十次代表大会之后,习近平在政策上有所松动的希望正在上升,在这次大会上,人们普遍预计他将打破中国领导层的现代先例,要求第三次执政。人们认为,一旦他获得了自己的地位,习近平将有更大的灵活性来改变方向。

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这是有可能的。但同样有可能的是,习近平决定保留零COVID,或其某种形式。鉴于他与该政策的密切关系,习近平可能坚持将其作为其政治权力的核心来保留。在其十年的统治中,习近平明显倾向于扩大国家对社会的控制和他个人对政府的控制。Zero COVID为实现这些目标提供了一个有效的途径。

以预防大流行的名义采取的额外的高科技监控层,可以用来加强对民众的追踪和监控。该政策还赋予了居委会的地方监护人权力,他们的任务是在街区一级执行零COVID的法令。这支由小官员组成的民间军队可以成为对中国庞大的城市实施更多国家监督的工具。为减少COVID传播而采取的国际旅行限制,可以成为限制中国公民接触外部信息和影响的一种方式--相当于中国的数字防火墙。

无论习近平选择哪种方式,都可以从中国的COVID对策中得出一些结论。首先,经济发展不再是共产党的首要任务。在过去的30年里,中国官员可以指望把高速增长放在所有其他问题之前。习近平不计成本地采取零COVID的立场,表明该党现在倾向于政治和社会控制,而不是经济进步。

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阅读。当拜登去中国时

第二,北京将政治置于科学之上--在习近平的领导下,这种政治已经带有民族主义色彩。中国当局一直依赖国产疫苗,拒绝采用西方公司开发的更有效的替代品。这些疫苗可以为中国领导人在管理冠状病毒方面提供更多选择,但他们可能希望避免出现任何依赖西方援助的迹象。

在中国的反冠状病毒战略中,以科学为主导的疫苗接种方法明显占了上风。尽管政府推广了疫苗,并且拥有很高的疫苗接种率,但它并没有根据其潜在的好处调整其抗击病毒的方法。例如,在北京,居民需要最近的阴性测试才能在餐厅就餐或乘坐地铁,但没有疫苗接种证明。当然,疫苗并不能预防所有的感染,但确实能提供良好的保护,防止严重疾病或死亡。如果衡量的标准是零病例,那么疫苗接种就不是一个优先事项。但这再次表明,管理党的形象,而不是公众的健康,已经成为COVID的零目的。

COVID大流行暴露了所有类型的现代社会的政治弱点,无论是民主社会还是专制社会。在美国,华盛顿未能控制该大流行病,暴露了该国高度分化的党派政治中的固有问题。在中国,大流行病突出了一个不对人民负责的专制政府的危险性。由于没有问责制,国家可以做最有利于国家的事情。对习近平来说,这很好。

迈克尔-舒曼是《大西洋》杂志的特约撰稿人,也是《超级大国中断》和《中国的世界史》的作者。中国的世界史》和《奇迹:亚洲追求财富的史诗故事》。
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