Xi Jinping visits workerst in Wuhan
Policy Brief
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The coronavirus outbreak: A stress test for the CCP

What crisis management tells us about China’s governance system

The historic coronavirus outbreak has increased pressure on Xi Jinping’s government. Approximately 82,000 Chinese citizens were infected, more than 3,300 died, and the month-long lockdowns that were imposed to stop the epidemic will likely yield disastrous economic results. Despite these grave challenges and the threat of new outbreaks still pending, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seems to have emerged strengthened by the crisis.

In the latest MERICS Policy Brief “Coronavirus in China: A stress test for the CCP”, analysts Nis Grünberg and Katja Drinhausen look into Beijing’s handling of the crisis. The authors arrive at the following key findings and recommendations:

  • The coronavirus outbreak has exerted pressure pressure on Xi Jinping’s government. But the CCP is an organization that thrives in campaign mode, therefore Beijing has emerged strengthened by the crisis.
  • The outbreak has showcased the ability of China’s system to mobilize millions of grassroots personnel to enforce quarantine protocols in residential areas.
  • Systemic failures became evident particularly in the first weeks, for instance weak spots in delegating authority and sharing information.
  • Information flows between central and local governments remain inconsistent: Compelled to comply with Beijing’s steep demands, local governments resort to manipulating statistical reports and exaggerating achieved goals.
  • The outbreak has accelerated China’s advanced efforts to employ ICT and big data to police citizens’ behavior.
  • The societal response to the crisis has shown a surprisingly high level of self-organization – a potential challenge to the CCP.
  • Democratic countries should reject China’s narrative that its authoritarian system played a central role in quickly containing the epidemic.

The MERICS Policy Brief is a publication tailored to the needs of policy and decision makers focused on China. If you would like to read the full Policy Brief, please contact Claudia Wessling, Director Publications MERICS (claudia.wessling(at)merics.de).