A Sidney-based author and global analyst sees the COVID-19 pandemic as a pivot favouring Communist China in its relationship with the United States.
“I’m not in favour at all of authoritarian systems, but because of the complete control that the Chinese government has, they will be able to do things that the United States will never be able to do,” said Michael Bociurkiw, author of Digital Pandemic: COVID-19: How Tech Went From Bad to Good in an interview with Black Press.
Advertising itself is a “clarion call to leverage the ‘good side’ of technology,” Bociurkiw’s book also highlights its abuses at the hands of authoritarian governments. He writes that no country has used technology more effectively to control its population through a combination of reward, punishment and repression than China.
Perhaps the most chilling example this longtime daily newspaper journalist cited is the use of human stem cells harvested from aborted fetuses to develop experimental COVID-19 treatments. While comparable research has happened in the U.S., it has been subject to much tighter rules and oversight.
The deep penetration of technology has allowed China’s rulers to not only spy on their people, but swiftly move the country in whichever direction it wants, Bociurkiw said, citing the country’s ability to build hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients within days. By contrast, many western democratic regimes were flailing, even struggling to develop appropriate responses to the pandemic. “Here, we can’t do think things as quickly,” he said.
While Bociurkiw described the COVID-19 outbreak as China’s Chernobyl moment, referencing authorities’ unsuccessful attempts in the former Soviet Union to keep the 1986 nuclear catastrophe under wraps, COVID-19 may not have the same debilitating effect on China. Quite the opposite, he said.
State-sponsored media in China have gleefully framed failures by the West to deal with the pandemic – witness current disputes over vaccine passports and mandates, reasonable public health measures by any standard – as evidence of the West’s inferiority relative to China’s authoritarian system. But its own lapses in governance and ethics are conveniently hidden by a screen of domestic government censors and firewalls blocking out critical western media, Bociurkiw noted.
“History will be the judge of China’s actions during the COVID-19 crisis,” he writes. “But there is little reason to believe the 100-year-old (Chinese Communist Party) regime will voluntarily surrender any ground as rising power – politically, militarily or economically.”
Citing growing party involvement, even aggression around the world using a range of tools from debt to vaccines, he sees China playing a long game. “They are on the long march and they will probably get away with a lot of things.”
But if it is easy to bash China’s government, Bociurkiw also warned of totalitarian temptations in western societies aided by technology. People have to be mindful of how long emergency powers used by western governments will remain in place, he said.
“On the one hand, we as a society are very grateful that the government has taken such good care of us, the benefits and so on,” he said. “But on the other hand, when will these things be lifted as well?”
Within this context, Bociurkiw suggested that western society may not react kindly to future lockdowns as the pandemic enters a new phase.
“If we go back into lockdowns here, we will have technology to help us do what we are supposed to do work-wise and relationship-wise,” he said. “But the tolerance for those things is going to be a lot lower.”
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