There are some basic rules for dictatorships. First, they always lie. Second, they always kill people. And third, if they say they aren’t killing people, they’re lying.
The obvious, traditional targets for secret police and assassins are those felt to be a threat to the regime: dissidents, rivals and journalists.
This pattern repeats the world over. From the 1984 Ethiopian famine to the shooting down of a passenger plane over Tehran last month, a lack of democracy and accountability is a recipe for death and disaster.
China is no exception to the rule. The Communist Party shoots, tortures and enslaves those it dislikes. Recently, it has taken to rounding up and imprisoning swathes of the Uighur population for the crime of being Muslim. And it also has a grim track record of deadly accidents, including a habit for wayward bits of its space programme to land on unsuspecting villages. State propaganda cannot tolerate the discussion of such problems, so there is limited impetus to resolve them.
Not only has China incubated the virus, overseen the infection of tens of thousands of its own citizens, and allowed it to escape its borders, the Communist state’s dogma even undermines the capacity of international institutions and democratic countries to fight back.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) refuses to share any of its information and advice on the coronavirus with Taiwan, because China insists that Taiwan be treated as a Chinese province, not a country.
It might be hard to believe, but it’s true. The WHO, meant to operate on the basis of science and facts to protect life, instead indulges political bigotry. A dictatorship clicks its fingers, and more than 23 million people are in greater danger.
Nor is it just WHO. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), responsible for co-ordinating the international response among airlines and airports, also refuses to share information with Taiwan.
The ICAO Twitter account at one point began blocking users who criticised this policy, apparently preferring to limit the reach of its own messages, rather than tolerate justified criticism. Putting the feelings of a dictatorship above the delivery of a crucial international responsibility is a monstrous error. We all lose out when the fight against an epidemic is disrupted.
Either we use science and facts, and save lives, or we bow to the propaganda concerns of tyrants, and more people die.