A standard trope in autocracies is that “democracies cannot deliver”, and that only autocracies are able to ensure material if not any other kind of progress. And anyway, for those who believe in “dialectical materialism”, what other form of progress is there? Since the economic Wunderkind Deng Xiaoping took charge of China in 1979, the PRC has emerged as the poster boy for dictatorships, advertising the undeniable economic progress that the country has seen. What remains unremarked in such a litany of triumph is that the foundation of that success has been constructed by democracies. In the case of the PRC, it was Taiwan, South Korea and Japan that ensured the double digit growth rates that country witnessed during the Deng era, as well as during large patches of the rule of his two immediate successors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. All that came to a close with the arrival to absolute power of Xi Jinping in 2012. The new Chinese Communist Party General Secretary prioritised control of the party machine led by him over all else. What passes for private industry in China was in effect taken over, as Jack or Pony Ma would testify if they could. Although an autocrat, in practice Mao was content to spend endless hours reading up or discussing matters both abstruse and practical, and left the actual business of governance to underlings such as Zhou Enlai and (with intervals) Deng himself. There was no functional Office of the General Secretary (OGS) as such, only an ever-changing band of individuals, who, in turn, were trusted and thereafter distrusted and subsequently (in the case of a few) trusted again by the CCP Chairman. Each of these favoured individuals ran fiefs of their own, all the while keeping an eye out so as to ensure that they did not spark off Mao’s fury through word or deed, an unusually difficult when not impossible task. In contrast, since Xi Jinping took office in 2012, unlike his two immediate predecessors, not for a ten-year term but for an indeterminate period, more and more agencies of the state and wings of the party have come under the direct supervision of the OGS. As a consequence, several policies have been changed, often in a less efficient direction, while fewer and fewer people have been given actual rather than titular responsibility even in critical functions. Given the superhero status that those around him constantly assure the CCP General Secretary that he is, it is not surprising that fatal brainwaves such as allowing aircraft to fly to different parts of the world even after Covid-19 struck parts of China in the final months of 2019. Or in trying for the impossible, such as a Zero Covid policy. Should the PRC enter into another lockdown and through an ever compliant WHO persuade the rest of the world to follow suit as took place in 2020, the result would be chaos. From being an exemplar of economic growth to the rest of the world, Xi’s China has become a cautionary tale.
Even in 2020, cooler heads were warning that only those at extreme risk of fatal infection such as those who were elderly or immunocompromised should be subjected to lockdowns. Instead, goaded by the inimitable Tedros, following the advice of CCP experts in the PRC, much of the world went into lockdown for the first time in human history. Aware that they cannot be either proven to be right or shown to be wrong, the Lockdown Enthusiasts who have been proliferating since the Covid-19 pandemic claimed in 2021 and subsequently that but for the job-killing lockdowns of 2020, tens of millions more victims of the virus that accidently escaped from a lab in the Wuhan Institute of Virology would have perished. In those days in early 2020, terror was let loose on policymakers, as witness the claim that just in India, there would be tens of millions of deaths in the world’s most populous democracy. Meanwhile, these same doomsayers praised the actions of authorities in China. The effective way in which the Union Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi handled the pandemic ensured that the doomsayers were found to be wrong, although facts did not stop the torrent of horror stories that CNN, BBC, DW and CGTN constantly showcased about India. In less than a year, PM Modi ensured that essential items such as masks and vaccines began to be produced in substantial numbers from a baseline that was close to zero at the start of the period. All that those who tout the advantages of dictatorship over democracy need to do to convince them that they are wrong is to visit China and India. In the PRC, cities resemble ghost towns, and dislocations have become the norm. In India, despite renewed efforts at scaremongering by Covid-19 doomsayers, life has returned to normal everywhere. Prime Minister Modi rejected the advice of doomsayers to impose another national lockdown in 2021, or to impose a vaccine mandate, leaving it to the good sense of state and city governments and to the people to ensure that they took steps to ensure their safety. As a consequence, herd immunity came in India by the close of 2021, whereas the actions of the authorities in China have made the population of that country vulnerable to an unprecedented Covid. Democracies work, dictatorships do not.