Nothing to see here
Among the myriad factors that can complicate any efforts by a nation or community to normalise post lockdown is the global perception that you may be responsible for the terrifying and still ongoing pandemic. Such is the case with China and particularly Wuhan. From the beginning, Wuhan city authorities and the Chinese Government were being criticised for hiding and obscuring facts related to the outbreak, delaying global response and possibly contributing to COVID-19 becoming a full-fledged pandemic. Indeed, the blame game became so pervasive and toxic that acts of xenophobia and racism against anyone remotely 'Chinese-looking' became common worldwide.
At such a stage, China's options for an opportunity to turn around its tarnished image were limited to a few factors. First, it gains a level of control over its outbreak, particularly in Wuhan. Second, this stabilisation of the situation buys it the necessary credibility to start offering to help other countries in their struggles. The third and final factor is that China is the first to develop the vaccine. At least on the surface, China has achieved the first and second factor. It has also been conveniently helped along by a bonus factor in this endeavour, that of America and its allies fumbling their COVID-19 responses. As many have pointed out, such situations allow China to fall back on its favoured retort to most situations — pointing out flaws in the actions and situation of its accusers. In recent times, China has used this tactic to not only deflect criticism of its possible abuse of human rights but also its aggressive foreign policy tactics. To a certain extent, it would appear that China has had limited success in obscuring any possible involvement it may have with the spread of COVID-19. While calling COVID-19 the 'Chinese Virus' was common enough in the early days of this pandemic, now it has become a politically incorrect and generally problematic assertion to make. Certain voices worldwide that were persistently calling for China to pay compensation for losses incurred have now fallen silent, at least for the time being. Some have even appreciated the Chinese model, subtly praising the power of an authoritarian system to bring control to such a situation. Now, months later, Wuhan looks to be booming and bounding its way back to life. Even the contentious wet markets which may have been the source of the contagion, are now open. Eager to get the right optics, China has been holding a series of events and press reveals and releases over the past few months to show a post-COVID China and Wuhan. Recently, a delegation from 20 major multinational companies visited Wuhan as well in a highly publicised event. Chinese authorities claimed that this was a result of these companies finding confidence in China's efforts to resume economic activity safely. There is more.
Wuhan has been the target of a glitzy PR campaign that is attempting to frame the city's return as a 'rebirth'. Children were welcomed back to schools in a highly staged event recently. Furthermore, remarks made by Chinese officials during the aforementioned corporate tour event indicated that the Chinese authorities were trying to sell the idea that Wuhan was one of the few places on earth where it was possible to be mask free. Wuhan city authorities have made multiple attempts to sell this narrative with press-ops that show confident factory workers going on about their day without any thought for wearing a mask or any kind of face covering. Of course, as one may expect, all is not as rosy as it is being portrayed. The citizens of Wuhan are afraid. They are afraid that they are being used as a PR set piece that sacrifices their safety for China saving face internationally. Caution and restraint is an unpleasant sideline to the new campaign of 'reborn' China and the authorities have been careful to keep such narrative out of foreign media coverage that is being done on the ground. Many outlets such as Reuters have reported that security teams have generally kept reporters from asking too many questions of locals or hang about the wet markets. All this goes in tandem with Chinese efforts to keep the Wuhan markets out of the ambit of investigations over the source of the virus. While growing scientific consensus has stated that Wuhan may not be ground zero, China's campaign of theatricality and subterfuge ends up only fueling rumours that it has something to hide.