Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The revolution is not being televised

In 1970 Gil-Scott Heron recorded the song "The revolution will not be televised", a commentary on the way mainstream media may fail to report or ignore dissent or change in society. Some fifty years later some of those words ring true as media inside countries where dissent is growing is essentially ignored.

While anti-war protests raged in parts of Russia in March this year as PUtin initiated his 'special military operation' and invaded Ukraine, the events were notable by their absence on state media. The few organs that did publish reports that deviated from the party line were meanwhile swiftly shut down.

Last month protests spread across Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini who died in custody following her arrest by the country's morality police. The death fueled outrage against Iran's hijab laws and stoked criticism of the country's clerical leadership. But just as Russia blocked reporting of events in the streets, so too did Iran's state run media ignore the rising dissent and protests across the country. The crackdown on the dissemination of information also moved into the blocking of social media platforms.

The most recent example of state censorship has been in China as hundreds of mainly young people turned out to protest against Xi Jinping's zero-COVID policy and draconian lockdowns that have affected millions across the country. While western media reported the events that were seen in several major cities, China's media made no mention of the demonstrations.

The protests were very small in terms of numbers turning out at a few select locations. But in a country that rarely sees protests, the protests were significant.

Whether it was a turning point, as some media pundits and commentators suggested, is debatable. Some likened the protests to the build up to the Tiananmen 'pro-democracy' protests of 1989 which were brutally crushed by the PLA leaving thousands dead.

There were no doubt some that were calling for regime change and democracy. There were individuals shouting "Xi Jinping step down" [].

It is unlikely that there is a true revolution brewing. While the CCP is not much loved, except amongst a hard core of ultra nationalists, most Chinese people are content when their lives tick on unimpeded and they can enjoy themselves socially and manage to make a living.

There is of course growing discontent amongst the youth and the educated who would desire greater freedom and democracy. Talk to younger people in China and one may find that they will refer to Xi Jinping as a fascist. Some will often say there are no human rights in China and that there is no freedom.

But it is difficult to measure how large a groundswell of opposition there is to the status quo and the CCP. The repression of Muslims in Xinjiang province is often accepted amongst many Han Chinese as a way of stemming terrorism. But often fed only the party line, proper debate and discussion on the matter is distorted and one sided.

In the last three years all Chinese have experienced the strong repression of the state as it imposed strict lockdowns and restrictions to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

China, arguably, got some things right. But it has also got many things wrong. There have of course been missteps in the west from failing to act sooner and impose lockdowns and restrictions. Some lockdowns were perhaps not imposed early enough or strictly enough. There have been mixed messages concerning the use of masks and failures by governments to control borders properly at various points during the pandemic.

Such failures have resulted in high costs economically and high costs in terms of the numbers that have succumbed to the virus. But there have also been successes.

With the development of vaccines most western countries rolled out a successful vaccine initiative and for the most part got upwards of 70-80% of their populations vaccinated.

There of course was some resilience from certain quarters, in particular a very vocal minority of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.

China has also had its fair share of successes and failures. On a positive note it reacted relatively quickly to lockdown whole cities and travel. This did however follow initial failures to even recognise there was an outbreak and attempts to cover it up. Those early failures potentially allowed some to leave the country and spread the virus further.

There were also failures in admitting a likely connection with the Wuhan Institute of Virology which had carried out extensive research on coronavirus and in particular bats that are widely believed to be the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

While a lab leak has not been definitively established, strict controls of information concerning the spread and even attempting to blame other countries has not helped.

Swift draconian lockdowns certainly prevented a disaster. An overwhelmed health system in China could have proved disastrous. Closing the borders very early on also prevented an epidemic and the importing of new variants.

China, like other countries, quickly worked on developing a vaccine. Sinovac and Sinopharm were rolling out in China by December 2020 at about the same time as Pfizer was being approved in the west.

However as time has passed its efficacy has waned. This could be partly due to its having been developed to counter the first variant. Meanwhile Pfizer and Moderna have tweaked their vaccines to better protect against newer variants including Delta and Omicron.

China has also seen a slower uptake of its vaccine amongst the elderly who themselves are more vulnerable from the virus. As of August 2022, the full vaccination rate was 85.6% and the booster vaccination coverage was only 67.8% for older adults in China.

Coupled with a vaccine with a lower efficacy, China faces a dilemma. To relax COVID restrictions would undoubtedly result in the virus spreading through the population like a firestorm.

The population would be less resistant to newer strains, particularly Delta and Omicron, and as a result vast swathes of the population could become hospitalised and overwhelm the health system.

Essentially, China is caught between a rock and a hard place. Relaxing the rules could open a Pandora's box. Not only would the virus be unleashed and spread amongst a population of 1.6 billion people who are largely unprotected from the newer strains, but relaxing curbs could result in further more deadly strains developing.

The relaxing of rules in the west was arguably a mistake, especially concerning the use of masks in confined or indoor spaces. But with most people vaccinated, COVID has become more of an inconvenience and a few days off work.

While it is true to say that COVID is still resulting in deaths and illness in the west, the vaccination program has kept the spread under control.

China has to control the spread. But it also has to make difficult and necessary decisions. Authorities must licence the use of mRNA vaccines such as Moderna and Pfizer. This might be a matter of losing face for the CCP. But to carry  on with the current approach will likely only fuel the fires of discontent.

Having made a decision to roll out an efficacious vaccine, it should also be mandatory. While this might be seen as unethical by some, China has no choice unless it wants to pursue a so-called zero-COVID policy in perpetuity.

Closing off an entire nation from the world and holding an essentially unprotected population captive is not sustainable in the long run. Eventually an even more virulent strain could sweep through China rendering all measures redundant.

Whilst there are of course risks with any opening up policy, long-COVID being one in particular, China also faces other problems if it does not bite the bullet to break the cycle of constant repeated lockdowns. Not solving the COVID crisis will result in further social unrest, mental and other health issues and long term economic problems.

Chinese people are generally content if they can afford to live a happy life, eat well and enjoy their technology such as smartphones, which are as ubiquitous as bicycles once were. But if the economy takes a plunge and people can no longer afford to live, no amount of censorship will stop an uprising.

The resulting revolution may not be televised. But even if it were, no-one would be watching it. They'd be on the streets participating in it.

tvnewswatch, London, UK