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Will COVID-19 be China’s Chernobyl?

29 6 17

As the COVID-19 virus spread through China, “Chernobyl,” a hit docudrama in the United States last year, attracted growing interest from Chinese viewers. One chatroom post read: “People’s safety depends far more upon securing free information than on aircraft carriers, moon landings or a country’s superpower status.”

The docudrama centers on the April 26, 1986, nuclear accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union.

The Chernobyl accident remains the worst nuclear disaster in history. An explosion at the power plant’s No. 4 reactor discharged huge amounts of radioactive materials into the air, and prompted the evacuation and migration of 160,000 people. Fifty people, including plant operating staff, firefighters and other first responders to the accident, died from radiation exposure, while another 4,000 went on to die of radiation-related illnesses. Five years after the accident, the Soviet Union collapsed.

Will COVID-19 prove to be China’s Chernobyl? The virus has spread to cause a global pandemic. We still cannot predict how the situation can be brought fully under control. What is clear is that the virus has exposed the structural vulnerabilities of the Communist Party system in China.

First, the Chinese Communist Party presents itself as the sole embodiment of legitimacy, justice and infallibility. This means it is reluctant to acknowledge mistakes. China’s leaders avoid “bad news” and scorn the idea of sharing such news with........

© The Japan Times