SCMP series

The way public anger over poor government planning erupted in violence neatly illustrates the problem in today’s Hong Kong: government stupidity and nihilistic rioters.

Like the Sars epidemic, the coronavirus outbreak was worsened by the Communist Party’s penchant for secrecy.

Power centralisation in a hierarchical system helped spur China’s early development, but, as Covid-19 shows, it is now impeding further growth.

The depictions of life in a society under lockdown puncture the image of China’s efficient regime. In Hong Kong, the crisis is exposing the city’s twin problems: governance failures and a demoralised people.

While the global economy is more vulnerable now to shocks to China’s economy than in 2003, China today has more effective policy levers, deeper resources and better production capacity and technology.

Hongkongers’ scramble to buy daily necessities shows up the Hong Kong government’s bumbling effort to respond to the public health crisis.

It’s too early to say that containment has failed, but not so to prepare for mitigation – in the knowledge that the virus may never be eliminated.

The Covid-19 epidemic is disrupting the global economy and diplomacy. Beijing likes to say that any event within its jurisdiction is an internal affair, but that clearly doesn’t apply in this case.

Out of the ashes of infection and death come real pressure to cut bureaucracy and formalism and a will to fix problems rather than scapegoat outsiders. China will be the stronger for it.

Comparisons to Chernobyl are far-fetched, though there are lessons to be learned. Among them, a vibrant media and a bottom-up approach that harnesses the power of civil society.

The recent rant by the city state’s trade minister against panic-stricken citizens stockpiling essential goods holds lessons for Hong Kong.

Compared to Sars in 2003, more is known about Covid-19, and more quickly, thanks to advances in science and technology.