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Is COVID-19 China’s ‘Chernobyl Moment’?

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“The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl” – wrote former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the nuclear disaster – “even more than my launch of perestroika, was perhaps the main cause of the Soviet Union’s collapse five years later.” He went on to write that “the Chernobyl catastrophe was a historic turning point: there was the era before the disaster, and there is the very different era that has followed.”While the outcome from the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic is still unclear for both China and the rest of the world, there is no doubt that already the magnitude of the impact from the virus represents a Chernobyl-like historic turning point for the Chinese leadership and its ability to command political legitimacy. Undoubtedly, in the 21st-century history of Chinese authoritarianism, there will be an “era before the disaster” and a “very different era that has followed.” But how far can we go with the Chernobyl historical analogy?