At the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama famously wrote about the “End of History,” meaning that liberal democracy had prevailed over communism and the existential wars so common throughout history might finally be winding down as humanity embraces individualistic capitalism. Alas, history continues with a vengeance — and there is a slight chance the coronavirus crisis could spark World War III.
China lied about the Wuhan coronavirus, telling the World Health Organization there was no human-to-human transmission, weeks after Chinese officials knew that to be false. The Chinese Communist Party ordered early samples of the virus destroyed. It requested personal protective equipment (PPE) from across the world and then refused to send PPE to coronavirus-stricken countries unless political leaders praised China. Chinese officials have also prevented U.S. companies from shipping their own medical gear back home.
A new report compiled by the “Five Eyes” intelligence agencies of the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Britain added further evidence of China’s lies and malfeasance regarding the coronavirus. The State of Missouri has already filed a lawsuit to hold China accountable, and there is a growing chorus of voices demanding the U.S. sue the Chinese Communist Party in the International Court of Justice. The British think tank the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) suggested that the G7 countries should sue China for $4 trillion in damages.
Yet China has rebuffed these claims. The Chinese Communist Party dismissed the Missouri lawsuit as “frivolous.” Perhaps the Chinese are demanding that foreign governments praise China in order to have evidence to present in court to counter these claims for damages. It seems unlikely Beijing will pay up without a fight.
Trump administration officials have already suggested that China should have a populist revolution. The Western outcry over China’s oppression of Uighurs in Xinjiang and its forceful suppression of protesters in Hong Kong is only likely to build as more facts about the coronavirus come to light.
If America and other Western nations sue China in the International Court of Justice, and China refuses to take the case seriously, this would prove grounds for hefty sanctions and other harsh diplomatic measures. In an extreme case, it might even lead to war of one kind or another. As nations attempt to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable, it is possible Beijing will strike back.
Any such war would be less focused on territorial acquisition and more focused on regime change in Beijing. Aggrieved Western countries may ally with an opposition leader in China — or in Taiwan.
Any such effort would face steep odds, however. The Chinese Communist Party has an impressive — indeed, an Orwellian — control over the Chinese people. From social media surveillance to the social credit system, the Communist Party can isolate individuals and force them to toe the party line. Beijing also enjoys immense economic power over its neighbors and in the global economy generally.
War with China should not be entered into lightly, but the Chinese Communist Party needs to be held accountable for its lies and malfeasance in the coronavirus crisis. The Henry Jackson Society laid out a digestible timeline of the virus’s spread and the CCP’s malfeasance.
“From the outset, the CCP tried to censor attempts by Chinese citizens to identify and publicise the truth concerning the origins, nature and dangers of the virus. Not all of these censorship efforts succeeded, and a considerable body of independent, corroborative data came to light,” the HJS report explains.
According to unpublished, unconfirmed Chinese government reports seen by the South China Morning Post, the first recorded case of the coronavirus dates to November 17, 2019, weeks before The Lancet‘s claim that the first recorded case came on December 1. By December 8, the SCMP documents recorded between 1 and 5 new cases. By December 27, the SCMP documents showed 181 confirmed cases, and a friend of coronavirus whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang recalled that his medical department first reported the new outbreak to the Wuhan Center for Disease Control on the 27.
On December 30, Dr. Li sent a message to his friends about the outbreak, and the police responded by investigating his friends. The authorities forced Dr. Li to pledge not to spread “disruptive rumors.” Meanwhile, by that date, the SCMP documents recorded 266 cases. Li would go on to die of COVID-19 after contracting it from his patients. On December 31, China finally reported the outbreak to the WHO, while claiming there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
On January 1, 2020, a Hubei official ordered coronavirus tests halted and samples of the virus destroyed. On January 14, the WHO reported some human-to-human transmission, but quickly retracted the claim, citing Chinese sources. Wuhan was not put under lockdown until January 22-23. On January 26, Wuhan’s mayor admitted that 5 million people had already left the city.
On January 7, the CCP’s journal Qiushi began publishing timelines of President Xi Jinping’s efforts against the outbreak. A transcript of a speech Xi gave on February 3 referred to a statement he had made on January 7 at a meeting of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee, when he had “issued requirements for the prevention and control of the new Coronavirus.”
Xi Jinping could have acted to shut down Wuhan as early as January 7, two weeks before the city was shut down. A University of Southampton study found that if strict quarantine measures had been introduced three weeks earlier, the coronavirus’s spread would have been reduced by 95 percent.
As the coronavirus spread across the globe, China’s Communist Party put out a video encouraging Italians to hug Chinese people to prove they weren’t racist — while China was lying about the true danger of the virus. Chinese companies also sent faulty medical gear and coronavirus antibody tests to European countries. As mentioned above, the Communist Party is also preventing U.S. companies from shipping their own medical gear back home, where it is sorely needed, and China has extorted praise from other countries by holding PPE hostage.
Meanwhile, Xi attempts to blame the U.S. for the virus.
These actions arguably violated international law, endangered the lives of millions, and caused tremendous economic damage. This malfeasance, along with China’s oppression of the Uighurs and Hong Kong, makes a powerful case for serious action against Beijing.
Let us pray that action falls far short of a devastating military conflict. But as potential causes of World War III go, the CCP’s coronavirus malfeasance seems the most likely at this point in history.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.