This photo released on February 10, 2020 by China's Xinhua News Agency shows Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) wearing a protective facemask as a health official (R) checks his body temperature during an inspection of the novel coronavirus pneumonia prevention and control work at the Anhuali Community in Beijing.
Xi Jinping remains firmly in power despite novel coronavirus scare — report
( - February 18, 2020 - 6:34pm

MANILA, Philippines — Despite global misgivings with the way Chinese President Xi Jinping handled and prepared for the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Chinese president remains firmly in power, The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) said in a new report.

Speculation that the spread of the novel coronavirus would significantly weaken the former's grip on power, a notion trumpeted by a number of media outlets from The Telegraph to Foreign Policy, the EIU said was largely unfounded.

This, despite Jinping taking the lion's share of the blame for downplaying and potentially even deliberately covering up the severity of the virus and supposedly ignoring evidence that it spread from person-to-person until it was too late. 

Should the novel coronavirus be under control by the end of March, the EIU said, "the president will even have an opportunity to push for deeper centralization and political control."

"We do not believe that Mr, Xi will deny broader governance failures, but he will look to spin the argument in his own favour. He will claim that the apparent incompetence of local officials justifies further efforts at political centralisation and control," the report said in its findings. 

"This would align with the agenda set out at the CCP fourth plenum in October 2019, when Mr. Xi called for the 'modernization' of Chinese governance. More practically, it is difficult to see channels within the CCP in which meaningful opposition to Mr. Xi could form."

At this point, Beijing is foreseen to lift quarantine measures which is expected to prompt economic activity to normalise. To achieve this end, however, the authorities will need to bring down sharply the number of new infections. 

Beyond the health crisis

Conversely, the report warned that public dissatisfaction with the administration could soar to new and more dangerous heights.

"By then the economic costs of containment efforts will have become apparent; many smaller companies have stated that they will not be able to survive beyond the first quarter of the year in the current business climate," the report read. 

"Besides a health crisis, the authorities could face an economic crisis, with implications for incomes and jobs."

There is a range of opinions on when the virus is likely to be under control, with experts affiliated with Chinese authorities suggesting that the situation may substantially improve. 

By and large, however, the report said the situation also underlines the difficulty in maintaining Xi's image carefully cultivated by state media as an almost omniscient ruler who oversees and is aware of everything that is happening in the country. 

At the onset of the new virus, Beijing was faced with either choosing to admit that Xi was ignorant of the true nature of the crisis until almost a month into it, or that he was aware of it and involved in the response. — with reports from Agence France-Presse and intern Gabrielle Ann Gabriel

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