Biomedical Authoritarianism: The Role of the Council on Foreign Relations

The grisly Shanghai lockdown, now entering its eighth week, has forced a reckoning among members of Democratic America’s expert class—even if very few are willing to publicly admit it. Liberal media outlets like the New York Times, which depicted China’s draconian Zero Covid strategy as commendable in early 2021, are now rightly identifying the collateral damage that results when a government prioritizes Covid prevention above all else.

Democratic leaders and their accomplices in media and the academy, however, have yet to concede that non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) were tremendously damaging to our society and ineffective in terms of quelling the virus. Instead, they are trying to save face and maintain the legitimacy of the isolate-vaccinate paradigm, while adroitly distancing themselves from Xi Jinping’s brand of containment.

This tactical retreat is especially conspicuous among the scholars affiliated with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an American think tank with locations in New York and Washington DC.

In early April of this year, CFR senior fellow Yanzhong Huang published an opinion piece for CNN entitled “Why Xi Can’t Quit Zero Covid,” criticizing the shortsightedness of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for its unwavering commitment to lockdowns despite their obvious societal harms. Though he lists the unfortunate “ripple effects” of China’s lockdowns, such as shortages and delayed medical care, Huang stops short of identifying these problems as intrinsic to the NPI method of disease containment. Rather, he maintains that because of their dysfunctional political system the Chinese have become overzealous: they’re separating families and killing pets!

Huang is also careful to blame the chaos in Shanghai on China’s decision to put vaccination “on the back burner”—an odd statement given that Huang’s own report for CFR, published in January 2022, asserts without a hint of skepticism that the Chinese have vaccinated 85% of their population. In the same report, Huang faults the CCP, not for locking down the city of Wuhan, but for not doing so soon enough. In other words, according to Huang, lockdowns are a good tool, but the CCP is a bad mechanic.

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