Coronavirus outbreak tests China's leadership

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- The growth in infections and deaths from coronavirus in China is putting more pressure than ever on its leadership, especially its powerful president, Xi Jinping.

Hospitals are overwhelmed. Cities are locked down. Travel is restricted. Factories have been idled. Human dignity on occasion has been cast aside.

"At some point the Chinese will say we're going backwards too far too fast. We need some alternatives here," said Prof. David Lampton, a China scholar at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

He was one of the first Western scholars to live and study in Wuhan. He also wrote a book about China's leaders entitled 'Following the Leader: Ruling China, From Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping.'

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Depending how long the crisis lasts, he believes President Xi will at some point be held accountable for the slow response to the crisis, a lack of transparency and for impeding access to global health organizations to help.

Chinese citizens have criticized the government on social media, even praising the doctor who blew the whistle about the new strain of virus, only to be punished for doing so.

Dr. Li Wenliang then died after treating infected patients. Discontent is rarely voiced as China's double-digit economic growth has raised wages and living standards for millions.

However, the coronavirus epidemic poses the threat of a significant slowdown.

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"Now economic growth is threatened not only by this but the trade war and all the other policies that the central government's been pursuing, and also, this is a threat right to the basic security of every family," said Dr. Lampton.

Dr. Lampton says U.S. policy toward China may also explain why access to the World Health Organization and the CDC has been limited.

"The U.S. has, from their point of view, taken a more antagonistic point of view, and therefore they're going to provide less access to China because they fear we will use this to delegitimate China or use it in ways that are harmful to the Chinese leadership," he said.

No one is predicting an Arab Spring like uprising by Chinese citizens. However, as Chairman Mao once wrote, a single spark can start a prairie fire.

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