Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Translating the Evidence: How Xi Jinping Can Claim He Anticipated the Coronavirus Outbreak and Ordered the Chinese Communist Party to Prepare for It
Press Release

RELEASE: Translating the Evidence: How Xi Jinping Can Claim He Anticipated the Coronavirus Outbreak and Ordered the Chinese Communist Party to Prepare for It

Washington, D.C. — The outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, which emerged from one of China’s notorious wildlife markets in December, poses a major threat to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and President Xi Jinping. A new column from the Center for American Progress explains how Xi has insulated himself to avoid bearing the brunt of any potential political fallout.

Chinese officials and citizens could pin the blame for the crisis on President Xi. After all, the outbreak occurred long after Xi moved to concentrate power at the top while removing authority from lower-level officials to take action that might have contained the virus. However, a close analysis of China’s crisis response efforts so far suggests that while multiple heads will roll, it is highly unlikely that Xi’s will be among them.

“Xi Jinping has studied every element of the Soviet Union’s collapse,” said Melanie Hart, CAP’s director of China Policy and co-author of the column. “He’s been preparing for ‘China’s Chernobyl’ for at least a year, if not longer. Unfortunately for the many coronavirus victims, that wasn’t enough to prevent the crisis, but it will likely be enough to inoculate Xi himself from the worst of the fallout.”

Xi is likely to claim that he ordered CCP cadres to start preparing for a potential crisis more than a year ago. In a series of speeches that Xi delivered in 2019, he called for the entire Chinese political system to prepare for “black swan” and “gray rhino” events. Black swan events are unpredictable crises, while gray rhino events are the more predictable, festering risks that are too-often ignored because one never knows when they might emerge. The need to prepare for black swan and gray rhino events was a key Xi Jinping theme throughout 2019.

The coronavirus outbreak is the very definition of a black swan event. President Xi now appears prescient, and he could claim that the outbreak would never have reached such disastrous levels if lower-level officials had more faithfully carried out his orders.

The column also provides a translation of an extensive essay on Xi Jinping’s risk management speeches written by Chen Yixin, a top official and Xi loyalist who has been dispatched to Wuhan to fix the crisis.

Read the column: “Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Philosophy on Risk Management” by Melanie Hart and Jordan Link

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at shananel@americanprogress.org or 202-478-6327.