China’s government is “confident” of handling the coronavirus crisis in a way that will not damage the leadership, historian Wang Gungwu said on Wednesday.
Known for his expertise in Chinese history and civilization, Wang acknowledged that there is disappointment and dissatisfaction among some in China about how Beijing is handling the COVID-19 crisis, but that would not likely seriously hurt the leadership.
“That’s quite normal — you are disappointed, you find (it) unsatisfactory, a lot of things could’ve been done better, and you would also resent the fact that you may not speak as freely as you would like about it and complain openly as in other countries,” said Wang, a professor at the National University of Singapore.
“Now, all that may not be satisfactory, but in the end…the system is such that the leadership is confident that if they can identify the problem and find solutions to it as quickly as possible, all that will not seriously affect them,” Wang told CNBC’s “Street Signs.”
Beijing, he said, appears to be doing all it can to control the situation and contain the outbreak using ways that have previously been successful within the context of China.
President Xi Jinping also “acted the way (that is) to be expected” as the news makes its way through the hierarchy.
“So the key is: Can they can solve the problem as quickly as possible, have they identified the problem correctly,” he said.
China’s National Health Commission said there were 1,749 confirmed new cases in the mainland and 136 additional deaths as of Feb. 18, bringing to the total number of confirmed cases to 74,185. There have been 2,004 deaths so far.
There have been criticisms leveled against the Chinese government’s handling of the crisis, such as not managing the outbreak fast enough at the onset. But that is unlikely to unsettle Beijing, said Wang.
“I think the government is aware that there are imperfections in the system and that they have made mistakes and so on, (but) I don’t think that worries them greatly,” said Wang.
And even though there are people who are critical of the Chinese leadership, the majority of the Chinese populace are “reasonably pleased” with what the system has provided for them in the last few decades, said Wang.
“Despite the controls and so on, the country has become relatively prosperous. People’s standards of living have risen, they are on the whole feeling well-off and there may be other things that they would love to have which they don’t have, and they are prepared to wait for the time to eventually (come),” he said. “But in the meantime they think that the system is working so far, so good.”
Asked if the world can trust China, Wang said the country wants to be taken seriously.
“My understanding is that the Chinese very much wants to operate in the global situation today,” he said.
“In fact, they are trying to say they are more globalized than people realize, they are now completely locked into the international system, which is why in terms of supply chains, in terms of production, manufacturing, exports and so on, there’s no way that the Chinese can escape their responsibilities for whatever is happening in China — they understand that,” said Wang. “It’s a new world.”