- - Thursday, April 9, 2020

Propaganda. Torture. Dissidents thrown into concentration camps. Are we describing 1960s China or the present day?

It matters little to the millions of Chinese held hostage by China Communist Party head Xi Jinping, who earned his place among history’s most notorious madmen well before he allowed 2019’s novel coronavirus to ravage his own country.

Mao’s “Great Leap” has devolved into Xi’s Great Charade, but communism’s brutal devices remain much the same. This time, the dissidents are doctors and lawyers, and the tanks in Tiananmen Square have been replaced by a smaller, silent threat.

Over the past several days, I have had the privilege of speaking with human rights activists who risked everything to expose Beijing’s latest power play. They are unanimous in their allegations that the China Communist Party (CCP) knew for weeks that COVID-19 was spreading, that it was highly contagious and dangerous, and chose to lie about it.

That deception has so far led to the deaths of thousands and endangered millions more. According to a timeline provided by Yaxue Cao at ChinaChange.org, on Jan. 21, the Hubei provincial government pushed forward with its Lunar New Year celebrations. CCP leaders gathered in the city of Wuhan to observe the festivities. Many of the more than 40 performers forced to participate in this “gala” were already shaking with fever.

Early the next morning, after ensuring party bosses were properly impressed, Hubei Province initiated a second-degree public health emergency response. The damage, however, was done long before that. The world would later discover that officials had waited 51 days before alerting the public to the novel coronavirus epidemic.

The depths to which Beijing will sink to retain its grasp on power are well known; but even now, in the face of a second outbreak, CCP officials persist with systemic repression, censorship and outright thuggery to control the flow of information.

Chinese human rights lawyer Jiangang Chen described to me the atmosphere of chaos and intimidation surrounding lawyers representing victims of COVID-19. Many who attempt to speak out are imprisoned and tortured, while others are contacted by CCP agents and warned to back off.

Beijing’s harassment of those closest to the pandemic’s origins should illustrate the flimsiness of their narrative. But according to Dr. Jianli Yang, president and founder of Citizen Power Initiatives for China, the CCP’s propaganda machine still enjoys stunning levels of influence, especially over young people. Fortunately, outside the mainland, a new generation of activists is committed to exposing Beijing’s crimes.

Hong Kong activist and Demosisto Secretary-General Joshua Wong railed at the idea of China as a guardian of global health, scoffing at the CCP’s recent attempts at “mask diplomacy.” “Beijing’s interests override the health of Hong Kongers,” he told me, as he described how misinformation about the coronavirus has compounded the difficulties of resistance. Fellow activist Kinmin Chan, who was just recently released from prison, described a Hong Kong where most would rather die of COVID-19 than step foot in a hospital and risk arrest.

Elsewhere in China, the CCP’s stranglehold has made it nigh impossible for Chinese to tell the truth about the roots of the pandemic. Uyghur advocate Rushan Abbas described for me unsettling parallels between Beijing’s coronavirus response, and their ongoing efforts to repress dissent in Xinjiang. One activist from the International Campaign for Tibet told me that CCP officials have made a habit of arresting dissidents under the guise of enforcing social distancing regulations.

All this sounds familiar, because the story of China’s coronavirus failure is the story of communism itself. The façade protecting Beijing’s petty tyrants has crumbled, revealing an illegitimate nation that survives by virtue of its disregard for human life.

To stay silent is to condone systemic torment. To look away is to concede the global economy, and millions of lives. America, this shining city on a hill, is the world’s last best hope not just for survival, but for a new era of intolerance for despotism enshrined in the trappings of diplomacy. We must not fail.

Because hope, as one activist told me, is the only thing we have.

• Marsha Blackburn is a Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee.

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