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The Information Politics of COVID-19 in China

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Abstract

This chapter documents two information failures in China in early stages of the coronavirus that became the COVID-19 pandemic. First is the failure of timely and truthful upward reporting from Wuhan in December 2019 and early January 2020, which kept Beijing ignorant of the outbreak and spread of the virus. Second is the official misinformation to ordinary citizens in mid-January, even after Beijing understood the risk of transmission; this was accompanied by an aggressive campaign of censorship and intimidation of netizens who posted news about the virus on social media. Both failures were also evident in China’s SARS crisis of 2002–2003 and stem from systemic problems of information politics. China followed these failures with responses that are unusually sensitive to the tradeoffs between centralization and decentralization. With the draconian lockdown of Wuhan, Beijing exercised effective leadership by directly taking charge. Then, by invoking the Emergency Response Law, which mandates highly localized response, it permitted localities down to the county level to exercise discretion in choosing a policy response suited to local conditions and report upward ex post. With its capable response, Beijing has deflected attention from early failures, especially by comparison with bungling by governments elsewhere in the world.

Keywords

Information Politics Coronavirus Transparency China 

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Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA

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