In an open letter, influential Chinese academic Xu Zhiyong called on Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping to step down in wake of Xi’s handling of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.
Defying the risk of retribution from the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xu wrote of Xi: “Your incompetence is on display in times of crisis … Let me illustrate my point. Your prevarication led to an unconfined and explosive spread of what [became] a nationwide epidemic.”
Xu, founder of the New Citizens Movement, a group advocating civil rights and China’s peaceful transition to constitutional rule, continued: “The lessons of [the SARS outbreak in] 2003 are right there in front of your eyes. Do you really mean to tell us that you are completely out of touch and lacking any sensitivity to these facts?” The letter was titled “Dear Chairman Xi, It’s Time for You to Go”.
There are officially more than 111,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in China and more than 3,800 deaths, though many analysts say the numbers are likely much higher.
Washington Times security analyst Bill Gertz tweeted: “RT @VOG_2020: #MilesGuo: To call it coronavirus or COVID19 is not right. It’s CCPVirus.”
Gertz had earlier tweeted: “Trade deal with China for President Trump to pursue: Make Beijing pay for the damage caused by the Wuhan virus. They have trillions in cash reserves and China’s Communist Party should be held accountable for China making the world sick with new microbes.”
Gordon Watts noted in a March 9 report for Asia Times that the virus “has been a public relations nightmare for Xi and the inner circle of the Party.”
Accusations of incompetence have been leveled against the administration for its early response to the crisis, as well as claims of a “cover-up” by officials in Wuhan. The death rate in the city has also been questioned by media outlets as far too low with crematoriums working “around the clock.”
Now Xu, a legal scholar who holds a doctorate from the prestigious Tsinghua University, “has dared to voice growing concerns that have emerged on social media chatrooms across the world’s second-largest economy,” Watts noted.
Last month, Xu had accused the “Chairman of Everything” of being “clueless” and was reportedly arrested.
“The handling of the coronavirus epidemic is undoubtedly sapping confidence in the Communist Party and its formerly all-conquering General-Secretary, Xi Jinping. Any country or ruling party would struggle if faced with a similarly massive challenge,” Rowan Callick, of Griffith University’s Asia Institute, wrote in a commentary for Project Syndicate, an academic website.
“But the Party and its leader shoulder especially great ambitions of entering a ‘new era’ created by Xi to ‘realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation’ … The big question now is how this renovated Party structure is holding up against the appalling coronavirus epidemic?” Callick added.
In a move to change the narrative, Xi and his close cabinet of cadres “have marshaled the full powers of the state and the government-owned media,” Watts noted. They have put forward a different scenario of “competence” in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak and repeatedly republished words of “praise” from the World Health Organization.
At the same time, they have tried to silence outspoken critics such as Xu Zhangrun, a respected professor of law at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Watts noted. After publishing an online critique of Xi entitled “Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear”, Xu Zhangrun was placed under house arrest by the security forces and barred from using the Internet, media reports said.
Other analysts say it is wishful thinking that criticism of Xi will result in any consequences for the supreme leader.
Jude Blanchette, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based thank tank, noted: “It’s very unlikely that there’s any significant or overt political challenge to Xi Jinping. This is a leader who has consolidated extraordinary amounts of power … his value proposition is that he will be able to fix China’s governance system to be able to deal with Black Swan events like the one we’re dealing with now and other challenges China is facing.”
“I think where we should be spending most of our time looking is what will the new shape of the Party-state look like in response to, or as a result of, its actions to deal with the coronavirus,” Blanchette told the South China Morning Post.
David Maxwell of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies noted that Xi “has worked hard to ensure he remains in power. If he could be held accountable he would surely fall for his actions but at best he is only accountable to the CCP and he may even not be to them. But a good letter!”