A Virus on the Move Tests China’s Control

Rosalind Mathieson

(Bloomberg) -- Want to receive this post in your inbox every day? Sign up for the Balance of Power newsletter, and follow Bloomberg Politics on Twitter and Facebook for more.

On the eve of one of the biggest mass movements of people on earth, a new challenge has emerged for China’s leadership.

A respiratory virus which started in the central city of Wuhan has spread within China and overseas. The World Health Organization could declare an international emergency.

It’s reminiscent of SARS, which 17 years ago sparked global panic, affecting air travel and killing nearly 800 people. Since then there have been periodic concerns about the potential for other outbreaks, particularly viruses that could jump between animals and humans.

And with recollections of SARS come memories of Beijing’s handling of the crisis. It was slow to respond at home, late in informing the world and cagey about how bad things were. China’s leaders were also criticized for their response to a subsequent contaminated milk scandal and revelations about bad vaccines.

So far Beijing has been faster to react. But the Communist Party is still carefully regulating information. That’s led ordinary Chinese to take to social media platforms to demand greater transparency.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese are about to travel for the Lunar New Year. With a virus on the move, the risks are high. For a party used to control, the task is to show that nothing is being hidden.

Global Headlines

Just in: U.S. President Donald Trump said he will hold a press conference today before departing Davos.

Midnight oil | The Senate voted early today to set the terms for Trump’s impeachment trial — after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the president got a reminder that a small group of Republican senators can determine how it will play out. McConnell was forced to hastily revise his proposed rules in the face of a mini-rebellion over the compressed schedule for arguments. House Democrats can begin presenting their case as soon as today.

Click here for more about how Trump has kicked off this election year with a string of foreign policy and economic wins that his campaign hopes will overshadow — and outlast — the political fallout from his historic impeachment.

Lam in Davos | In an interview with Bloomberg, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Chinese President Xi Jinping assured her he wouldn’t use ongoing protests to tighten China’s grip on the former British colony. Speaking in Davos, she defended her handling of unprecedented protests, rejected the idea of meeting more protester demands and said her government was pursuing a stimulus plan designed to preserve jobs.

Italian arrivederci? | Luigi Di Maio looks to be on the brink of quitting as the leader of Italy’s governing Five Star Movement, John Follain reports. Coupled with mass defections from the party, the 33-year-old foreign minister’s bickering with his political allies has drawn a scolding from the populist movement’s founder, Beppe Grillo, and threatens the future of a fragile coalition designed to keep Matteo Salvini’s nationalist League out of power.

Warming to Europe? | Trump’s visit to Davos has been an uncommonly peaceful one, even as he’s continued to espouse his economic and trade policies as global models to a conclave of doubters about his America First policy. Trump sent some unusually warm messages to European nations that have endured his tariff threats on everything from cars to Camembert for almost three years.

Maintaining Control | The whirlwind of political changes unleashed by President Vladimir Putin is all part of his plan to continue to dominate Russia once his term ends in 2024, Henry Meyer and Ilya Arkhipov write. While allies are heartened, his ploy to keep power indefinitely faces risks from growing public discontent over falling incomes. Putin wants to control all branches of government “without having to deal with day-to-day affairs,” said one analyst.What to Watch

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos’s mobile phone was hacked following a WhatsApp exchange with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to two people familiar with an analysis of the breach. A UN investigation into the incident is to be released today. The Saudi embassy to the U.S. said the news, first reported by The Guardian newspaper, was “absurd.”

With the start of Democratic presidential nominating contests now less than two weeks away, Bernie Sanders is trying to temper his reputation as a party outsider and make the case he could beat Trump.

Tell us how we’re doing or what we’re missing at balancepower@bloomberg.net. And sign up for Bloomberg Green, our new daily digest of climate news and insights on the latest in science, environmental impacts, zero-emission tech and green finance.And finally … In 2018, China halted virtually all imports of plastic waste, triggering far-reaching effects right around the globe. A Bloomberg survey of 25 governments worldwide showed the reverberations are still being felt two years on, from the U.S. to Japan, Nigeria and Russia. But as Alan Crawford and Hayley Warren show, China may just have inadvertently done the world a favor.

--With assistance from Kathleen Hunter, Iain Marlow and Anthony Halpin.

To contact the author of this story: Rosalind Mathieson in London at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at acrawford6@bloomberg.net, Karl Maier

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

Subscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.