China’s communication on the corona virus – reality and opportunities

10:17 by Hubert Fromlet, Kalmar

More recently, the corona virus has also started to frighten stock markets. The virus has reached more and more countries – and finally Europe more visibly as well, particularly Italy. The outbreak is spreading. One may say unfortunately and unexpected – but for virologists certainly no surprise.

Statistical sources

China remains by far the most negatively affected country with its epicenter in Wuhan (see https://www.ft.com/content/a26fbf7e-48f8-11ea-aeb3-955839e06441, also the following more anonymous source with similar numbers https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries). Here I could find for China on February 26 totally 78 073 cases with infection, 30 049 totally recovered people and, unfortunately, 2715 total deaths.

It must be regarded as impossible to judge more precisely the quality and correctness of these statistics. Despite further search, however, I could not find better or more reliable info on the Chinese infection and recovery cases.

The corona virus in Chinese media – a new opportunity for more transparency?

There is a widely spread belief outside China that the numbers for the initial outbreak of the epidemic, the unregistered cases of the disease and the true lethality rate strongly underestimate real developments. This mistrust is certainly caused by inconsistent and limited reporting in the beginning of the crisis – but also by the long-time transparency bottlenecks which I addressed many times in the past.

Having studied more lately quite a number of articles on the corona topic in Chinese media takes me to the conclusion that the virus problem indeed dominates the headlines. However, these reports are mainly presented with encouraging attributes, supported by selected positive comments on all the managed efforts from official and prominent voices from abroad.

Thus, hope dominates, also when it comes to the economy. President Xi Jinping has recently been stating that China can and will meet this year’s social and economic goals. This conclusion underlines what has been written in one of my previous blog that this year’s GDP growth should come in as close as possible to the growth goal of “around 6 %”.

But: The content of “as close as possible to 6 percent” may or will be changed in reality to a somewhat lower “as close as possible”, at the same time using the foreseeable and unforeseeable negative consequences of the corona virus as an excuse.

Right or wrong, China has recently also received some international praise for its fight against the corona virus. In my view, China has now a unique opportunity to improve transparency and international recognition by communicating as openly as possible about the corona virus and the economic/statistical consequences.

Why not commencing now – with the corona virus as the concrete starting point – a new kind of opening-up policy aiming at better transparency after Deng Xiaoping’s important opening-up approach for more cross-border trade in 1978/1979?

At the end of the day, transparency always means a virtue.

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
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