This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The widespread requisitioning of private property by the Chinese government for use as isolation facilities in the coronavirus epidemic has sparked fears that officials will abuse their powers, as the number of confirmed cases topped 45,000.
Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong recently passed emergency legislation authorizing local governments to requisition privately owned property, transportation, equipment and other goods to fight the epidemic of COVID-19, as the virus has been named by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Local commentators say there are concerns that the move will pave the way for officially sanctioned looting of private property amid the chaos of the epidemic.
In Wuhan and other parts of China, the authorities have requisitioned buildings and intercepted packages of goods needed for epidemic control, including privately purchased supplies of protective clothing and face masks.
Liang Yiming, a resident of Guangdong’s provincial capital Guangzhou, said she has her doubts about the policy.
“If they are using [properties] to isolate people who have been infected, they should take over an entire residential compound that is easier to lock down and control,” Liang told RFA. “There’s a government building in every district, used by the administration,”
“These properties don’t belong to the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party, but have been paid for by the taxpayer,” she said. “I think we would be much more willing to to cooperate … if they first requisitioned all of the government office buildings, the police stations and police departments.”
Corruption and revenge fears
Hong Kong-based political commentator Liu Ruishao said there are concerns that any kind of requisitioning is wide open to abuse by corrupt officials, or to exact official revenge on someone who ran afoul of the authorities.
“They are taking civilian supplies, but is there reasonable compensation offered?” Liu said. “If people don’t agree, will the officials come and force them to comply?”
“The law is mainly there to protect the government,” he said. “The epidemic is is likely to get further out of control, and officials know that they may not have enough resources to fight it.”
“That’s why they’re looking to the private sector.”
Liu said other provinces and cities are likely to follow suit now that such laws have been passed in Guangdong, and will likely heighten public anger at the government.
As of Wednesday, 1,113 deaths from COVID-19 were reported among 45,206 confirmed cases globally. Most of the deaths were in the worst-hit central province of Hubei and its provincial capital, Wuhan.
Guangdong authorities on Tuesday evacuated residents from Poly Tianyue Garden in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district, in a bid to prevent a cluster of infections from spreading through the tower block’s plumbing, following similar measures taken across the border in Hong Kong.
Toning down anti-Japanese TV
The entire building’s residents were taken to the city’s Jiangyue Hotel for medical observation, the city’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.
The move came after two confirmed COVID-2019 cases were confirmed in the building on Jan. 30.
Meanwhile, there has been a turnaround in typically nationalistic antagonism towards Japan, after Japan began pouring aid into China to help with the epidemic.
Shanxi Satellite TV announced it would suspend broadcasts of the war-era TV drama “Red Sorghum,” which includes a portrayal of brutal behavior by occupying Japanese troops, out of gratitude to Tokyo.
Beijing businessman Zhang Shengqi said the move was a political decision by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which had until recently whipped up anti-American and anti Japanese sentiment when it needed to divert public anger away from its own problems.
“It’s not really appropriate for them to be banging the anti-American and anti-Japanese drums right now, so they have suspended this anti-Japanese TV show,” Zhang said. “They need to adapt to the current situation.”
“Actually the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t hate the U.S. or Japan, but it needs to incite ordinary people to oppose and boycott them, because it wants them to boycott ideas of freedom and democracy,” he said.