Foreign Influence Podcast Ep017

Coronavirus Capers in Singapore • China’s Legitimacy at Stake • US Politics Any Better?

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Coronavirus Capers

The novel coronavirus continues to dominate the discussion here in Asia where we live. The number of deaths is now higher than the SARS coronavirus epidemic, and cases continue to stack up, especially in mainland China. The hope is the rate of the number of new cases will begin to slow, but there’s plenty researchers still don’t know about this new virus. That said, so far the death rate from this coronavirus seems to be fairly low. No doubt it’s quite infectious, but it seems likely that it's no more deadly than the seasonal flu (which kills thousands of people each year because it is so widespread). 🤞🏻

That didn’t stop us from having a semi-freakout here in Singapore over the weekend. At the beginning of the infection here, the cases were people from or closely connected to Wuhan, China, which is where this outbreak started. But then we started seeing people with no connection to China get sick, which meant the disease was out in the “wild”. So, the city-state raised it’s threat level on Friday afternoon to implement new measures regarding large public gatherings, etc. What few if any people saw coming was a huge food panic. People crowded stores to stock up on basics like rice, dried noodles, cooking oil, and - of all things - toilet paper. (Hong Kong has seen similar panics in the last few days.)

(A grocery near my place in central Singapore. No more paper products for you.)

The Singapore government quickly moved to reassure people that there was enough food, and one grocery chain limited purchases of some items. To be fair, in this sort of situation, there could be supply problems if, for example, ships refused to dock here and the two bridges across Straits of Johor were closed. (Singapore remains an island nation, after all.) But there’s absolutely no evidence of any of that. The only shortages were the ones that were created by people’s fear.

Several people I’ve spoken with think a key difference during this outbreak is social media. Bad information - sent innocently or on purpose - can travel faster than good information. It’s all part of the growing up process in our new smartphone world, I guess.


Coronavirus Challenges the Legitimacy of the Chinese Way

The coronavirus outbreak has also been threatening to disrupt the Chinese government’s approach to governing the country and its system of information control. Many people were already frustrated with delays by the Wuhan local government in addressing the crisis (blame for which the local mayor placed back on the government in Beijing). Then an early whistleblower on the outbreak died, crystallizing many people’s unhappiness. Li Wenliang was an opthamologist in Wuhan who started seeing cases of a new virus early on. He decided to message some of his colleagues about it to warn them. For that act, he got a visit from the police. The whole episode could threaten the legitimacy of the system the Chinese Communist Party has built, which offers stability and prosperity in exchange for limited political freedoms and freedom of speech. Whether this will have long-term impact remains to be seen.


Yeah, but the American Way Is Totally Legit and High Quality

Today, Democratic voters get their second crack at choosing which candidate will face off against Donald Trump later this year. This time it will be a primary in the small northeastern state of New Hampshire - which means it’s regular old voting, unlike the caucus meetings in the Midwestern state of Iowa. As you likely heard, the Iowa caucuses were a shit show. Not a good look for a party trying to present itself as an alternative to Trump and hoping to use government to further the fortunes of the American people. But wait, there’s more. You have the biases built into our Electoral College system, which gives more representation in the presidential contest to rural and conservative, aka Republican, areas. You have Michael Bloomberg able to spend $300 million of his own money to become competitive in a democratic (nominally not plutocratic) race. And you have the continued rancor between the centrist and progressives wings of the Democratic Party. It’s the World’s Greatest Democracy™, folks. It’s all blue skies from here.


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Take care, wash your hands, and enjoy this pretty picture of a recent Singapore sunset. Some beauty to offset the gloom.

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