What the coronavirus reveals about the deeper disease of China’s government

February 11, 2020

The world is once again gripped in apprehension and fear as a new and previously unknown virus has emerged from China. Much like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003, the coronavirus seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Unlike SARS, however, the coronavirus is spreading with greater speed and lethality. China was much criticized in 2003 for failing to react in time and failing to take SARS seriously; 17 years later, they appear determined not to repeat those same mistakes with the coronavirus. Few events trigger intense global scrutiny like disease pandemics; and if the crisis in Hong Kong has shown us anything, China doesn’t desire intense global scrutiny. This latest disaster has once again revealed aspects of Chinese governance and culture that the CCP, The Communist Party of China, would prefer lay hidden. 

Within 100 days of the initial outbreak, in a display of manufacturing prowess, China erected a makeshift hospital in Wuhan province with over 1,000 new beds to treat and contain the virus. Despite these efforts, the virus continues to spread, and the death toll continues to increase. The coronavirus outbreak is tragic, and the international response of heightened security measures and quarantine have been lamentable but appropriate. Lord willing, this pandemic will be contained, and the loss of life will be limited. Regardless, it is unlikely that this will be the last pandemic China will battle. Against the backdrop of these health events, what the world is witnessing is a Chinese government that is as sick as its citizens. 

The greatest sickness China battles is not the result of pathogens, but of politics; not of flu but of philosophy. It is hard to overstate the pervasive and omnipresent nature of the Chinese state, harder still to get Americans and westerners to understand the extreme imbalance of Chinese politics. The CCP maintains a level of control over its people and their lives that would make George Orwell blush. Much has been written, although hardly enough, about the forced internment of over 1 million Uighur Muslims in the province of Xinjiang. More still was written in 2019 about the CCP’s crackdown on protestors in the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong. The Communist Party of China exists solely to perpetuate its own control over the people of China, and it will do whatever it can to maintain its hold and control. And what the CCP can not control, it will attempt to suppress; and what it can not suppress, it will deny; and what it can not deny, it will eliminate.

The sounds of silence

Soon after accounts of the coronavirus began to surface, so too did reports of China’s efforts to contain those accounts. The CCP arrested individuals who attempted to raise the alarm about the new virus, and suppressed stories of the virus spreading. It was only when the outbreak spread beyond the initial province of Wuhan that China was forced to acknowledge the reality of the pandemic. China’s efforts to contain the virus has had less to do with public health and safety and more to do with global impact and economic viability. It is not an understatement to say that everything that the Chinese state does is done with an eye toward answering the question, “What is best for the party, and for the state?” 

News that is unfavorable or that reflects badly on the party is suppressed. This pattern of repression did not begin with SARS or the coronavirus. Few Americans and westerners know that the CCP has gone so far as to ban entire topics from conversation and publication within China. In 2013, a list of seven banned topics was released, enumerating the topics that schools were forbidden to teach and publishers were forbidden to address. These topics include universalism, press freedom, judicial independence, civil society, citizens rights, historic mistakes of the CCP, and cronyism in elite and financial circles. These topics joined the already banned books such as textbooks on Western culture and most notably the Bible.

This pattern of denial, suppression, and restriction of free expression in China is not just unfortunate, it is deadly. When the state is concerned with its appearance more than its people, it will often ignore the truth and warning signs necessary to save lives. Ironically, the greatest mark of political health in a state is the government’s ability to admit and address its own faults and failures. This type of oversight, which we frequently lament in the West, may be uncomfortable and often inefficient, but it inoculates the state against a host of ills. China’s inability to conscience this type of oversight poses a far greater threat to its supremacy than any virus. 

The deeper disease

Of all the geopolitical threats that the United States and the West face in this new century, China definitely reigns supreme. Its massive population provides an almost inexhaustible source of laborers, consumers, and soldiers. Its massive state apparatus provides a level of command and control over the economy and culture that is the envy of totalitarian regimes across the globe. China integrates these strengths and fuses them into a strategy of great network power, and their goal is to remake the world in their own image. This effort begins within their own borders through a process called Sinofication, where competing ideologies, philosophies, and religions are suppressed in favor of official Chinese culture; Hong Kong protests and the Xinjiang "Uighur reeducation” camps are prime example of this strategy. However, these strategic advantages come with flaws as great as their apparent strengths.  

China has one of the lowest fertility rates among developed nations. Decades of adherence to the controversial One Child Policy has created a demographic crisis and a generation of men who have little to no prospects for marriage and procreation. This same generation of single men are also now solely responsible for the maintenance of their aging parents, as they have no siblings to shoulder the economic and logistical load of this aging generation. Conversely, many aging parents that once prized their male children now fear for the fate of their sons, as any son killed in military action or by disease leaves the family devoid of any means to provide income and support. 

Generations of oppression and secrecy have bred an environment where creativity and innovation are discouraged and trust in the government is nonexistent. This mutual mistrust hampers the ability of the government and the populace to respond to national challenges, and historically we know that such environments are ultimately self-defeating and unstable. 

The people of China deserve our pity and our prayers, and the politicians crafting the response to the global coronavirus crisis need our support. But we will fall short and miss the mark if we focus our prayers solely on the diseases and daily news that plague the world’s largest nation. While the coronavirus will likely and hopefully be contained, the people of China will continue to be afflicted by the far more virulent plague of Communist authoritarian rule. And while it may seem hopeless that the Chinese people will ever be freed from this plague, we know that there is hope. For we know that there is a vaccine for this most human condition, one that begins not in the halls of power but in the hearts of men. This Balm from Gilead which makes the wounded whole, is undeniable, irrepressible, uncontrollable by any state, and it is on the move. 

Drew Griffin

Drew Griffin is a writer and editor who holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Arkansas and a M.Div. in Biblical and Theological Studies from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a veteran of over a dozen political campaigns and is a featured writer and speaker on … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24