President Xi Insists He Gave Orders To Contain Coronavirus Outbreak Weeks Before It Went Global

As the WHO expresses skepticism about China's response to the virus following earlier praise, President Xi is apparently trying to rewrite history and make it look like the Politburo Standing Committee was more on top of things than they really were.

Like George Orwell once wrote: "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past..."

According to leaks to China's state-controlled press over the weekend, President Xi Jinping issued orders to contain the deadly coronavirus outbreak almost two weeks earlier than the public had previously known, according to leaked details from a "secret speech" Xi gave to national leaders commanding them to suppress the virus by any means necessary.

Earlier reports, which we picked up yesterday, have since been confirmed by a report in Communist party magazine Qiushi, showing that this wasn't some kind of mistake but a deliberate decision by the party's media strategists.

According to the reports, Xi met with the Politburo Standing Committee and gave instructions about how to repress the virus on Jan. 7, 13 days before China revealed that it had confirmed human-to-human transmission, and warned the public about the dangers of the outbreak.

Prior reports put the beginning of Xi's direct involvement on Jan 20, and had previously left local authorities to supervise the response.  The FT notes that the new timeline "potentially implicates" Xi - a point we made yesterday. But clearly, the Chinese government is trying to make a different point, probably because its leaders are still optimistic that China will prevail in the "People's War" against the disease.

But why? What could Xi possible stand to gain from this? Well, one analyst has a few thoughts, which he shared with the FT.

China’s leadership on Sunday escalated efforts to demonstrate that it was in control, with state media reporting that Saturday was the 12th consecutive day when new cases confirmed outside Hubei were fewer than the day before.

Ryan Manuel, analyst at consultancy Official China, said it was also possible that the timeline published by Qiushi allowed Mr Xi to be associated with early diagnostic and test development, which had been praised by the World Health Organization, while keeping him distanced from repeat failures to contain the outbreak in Hubei. The total number of coronavirus cases in China was approaching 70,000 on Sunday, as 2,009 new cases were confirmed, most of them in Hubei. The number of deaths worldwide climbed to more than 1,660.

So there you have it: As the WHO turns more skeptical of China and its response to the outbreak, President Xi is trying to reassure the organization that he has been involved with the 'good' - areas where Beijing succeeded - and not the 'bad' - areas where Beijing failed (like not warning the public to take certain precautions because they hadn't yet revealed that the virus can be transmitted from human to human).

Once a vaccine has been confirmed, we suspect China's state media will try to make it look like President Xi played an active role in its development - and is thus directly responsible for the salvation of the Chinese people.