It's time to take a stand, and hold China to account, argues Robert Bates.

The current situation that's forcing millions of innocent victims to endure weeks of Bargain Hunt reruns, and bored curtain twitching, is the fault of the Chinese Government. It's that simple. They knew about the disease. They did all they could to cover it up, ergo the buck stops with them. Attempts by officials of the Chinese Communist Party to place the blame elsewhere is the latest proof that the current Chinese administration is unable to partake in conscientious international relations.

They refused, for the sake of domestic spin, to take measures that could have prevented the epidemic's evolution into a pandemic. It's the geopolitical equivalent of an obdurate student still turning up to sports day despite being riddled with chicken pox. Yes, they retained the long jump title, were lavished with parental praise, and burnt a few calories, but they did so at the expense of the rest of us who had no choice but to use the same changing room.

In fact, when you inspect their school report, you see that the CCP has a strong tendency to ignore rules that many of us would deem simply non-negotiable. They treat the South China Sea as their own play thing, trample domestic minority rights into the dirt, exploit UN loopholes to avoid proper scrutiny, and nimbly dodge WTO rules to the advantage of their state-run companies. That's not to mention the annihilation of democracy in Hong Kong, or the heavy artillery that currently casts a shadow over Taiwan.

As the country shifts geopolitically westward, the rules-based international order that was established by the democratic victors of World War 2 faces increased strain – creaking under the weight of repeated CCP violations. Western powers such as the UK have a responsibility to ensure that the liberal international system is not diluted to accommodate the wayward instincts of Xi Jinping and co. We must ensure that the CCP's conduct in global affairs is guided by the established precedents and norms of international relations, rather than have these norms sacrificed upon the altar of Sino-globalization. Failure to do so risks creating an ideological vacuum, within which the doctrine of 'communism with Chinese characteristics' could seize the mantle – throttling free enterprise.

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The remedy to this process may seem axiomatic, but nonetheless needs spelling out. Bodies such as the UN and WTO should be exercised more forcefully than they currently are to dial-up pressure on the governing party. The WHO's supine refusal to condemn China for the global crisis, and the UN Security Council's inability to commence a full enquiry into its causes, are recent examples of the meekness that have emboldened Chinese misconduct.

The time to take a strong stand is now. The Communist Party's power stems, in part, from its perceived competence on the international stage by the domestic populace. The social compact that has emerged in China requires Xi Jinping to achieve international ingratiation if he wishes to continue with his electoral monopoly.

We have already seen internal disharmony in China in recent days, the CCP cannot now risk international isolation as well. When faced with a choice between compliance or castigation, a rational actor would err towards the former. We can only hope that the Communist Party is prepared to recognise that.

Once China's Presidency of the UN Security Council expires on Wednesday their ability to hold up global criticism of their recent actions is removed. It is incumbent upon countries such as ours to use the removal of this roadblock for the greater good. We must have the confidence to condemn wholeheartedly, and as much as the facts support, the massive indiscretions that are so blatant – not just with relation to Covid-19, but across the board.

Far from being 'reactionary' as the vocal minority of CCP apologists may label it, such a move is completely proportional. For too long the atrocities committed in the far east have been conveniently ignored – that can no longer continue. The virus has shown that China is much closer to the West than at any point in its history, and its internal affairs have the potential to affect us all.

A strong UK, with an independent voice and centuries of global leadership to guide its decisions, is exactly what the world needs right now. Our glowing track record in supporting democracy worldwide, protecting minority rights, and 'playing by the rules' means that we have the necessary legitimacy behind which a coalition of nations can confidently assemble. Let's not shirk this obligation.

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