China’s dictator, President Xi Jinping, aspires to transform his country into the world’s supreme power, a goal he calls “the China Dream.” To that end, Xi has been exploiting the chaos, fear, and ruin of the coronavirus pandemic to try to advance an agenda that would place China at the center of a new global order. Xi’s aim is a world in which his totalitarian Chinese Communist Party, bolstered by his aggressively modernizing military, sets the norms and calls the shots.

The good news is that Americans are waking up to the reality that Xi’s dream is, in practice, a nightmare — not only for the people of China, but for the world. This recognition comes not a moment too soon. It is vital to devise strategies to defend not only our health, but our freedom.

Increasingly, under Xi, there is a no-holds-barred quality to the deceptions, propaganda and threats that Beijing is pumping into the international mainstream. A signal moment came in March, when Beijing, via China’s Xinhua state news agency, threatened to plunge America into “the mighty sea of coronavirus” by withholding vital medicines and precursors that were once made in America, but are now manufactured in China.

Under Xi’s sway, China, to monstrous effect, hid the truth about the dangers of the outbreak that emerged last winter in Wuhan. China’s authorities silenced Wuhan’s terrified doctors, ordered the destruction of evidence, repeatedly refused U.S. offers of expert help, and assured a compliant World Health Organization that there was no crisis.

By China’s official account, Xi took charge of the situation on Jan. 7; but for almost two more weeks, as the virus visibly spread, he did nothing to try to stop it, nor did he stop Wuhan’s well-advertised plans for a potluck communal dinner for 40,000 families. That went ahead on Jan. 18, a cauldron of contagion.

Even after Xi finally issued a warning on Jan. 20, confirming person-to-person transmission of the new disease, he then waited more than two days before acting to contain it. During that time, huge numbers of people, some infected with the virus, continued traveling out of Wuhan for the Chinese New Year holiday, to destinations both domestic and foreign. It was not until Jan. 23, by which time cases had already surfaced in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the U.S., that Xi finally abruptly reversed course, slamming on draconian quarantines at home. Whatever his intention with this timing, if the aim was to ensure that China would not be the only country hit by this virus, he could hardly have done a better job of abetting the spread abroad.

The fast-moving result has been the most destructive pandemic in a century — terrorizing billions in at least 185 countries and territories, infecting millions, killing hundreds of thousands and crashing the global economy. In America, more than 61,000 people have died of the coronavirus to date, and for many countries now reeling with this pestilence, there is no clear end in sight.

Instead of responding with contrition, transparency, and reform, Xi’s regime has doubled down, framing the struggle against this microbe as a contest between Beijing and Washington. This is part of Xi’s larger showdown for supremacy, played out, in this case, in the arena of disease control.

Naturally, China’s regime, with its massive apparatus of surveillance and coercion, does enjoy certain grotesque advantages in imposing lockdowns and enforcing quarantines. Citizens of China can be locked or, yes, welded into their homes, or forcibly dragged out of them, with no recourse, as happened in Wuhan.

Unhindered by such niceties as public debate or even modest rule of law, armed security agents can seal off entire cities, and anyone who complains can be threatened, beaten, jailed or simply disappeared — perhaps into some deeper quarantine.

China also grossly understated its coronavirus statistics, including the death count; kicked out a raft of reporters for major American newspapers; and in response to inquiries about the origin of the virus has been blocking access and issuing threats.

And then there’s China’s miraculously immune military. While U.S. soldiers and sailors grapple with the highly infectious coronavirus, China has repeatedly assured the world that not a single member of the People’s Liberation Army has come down with it (despite working hands-on in Wuhan during the height of the outbreak).

To further fortify China’s position as world leader in disease control, China also tried to disown the coronavirus entirely. In this, the WHO gave an assist, dubbing the disease COVID-19, a name chosen — as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus clarified — to avoid any hint of where it came from. That still wasn’t good enough for Beijng, which then launched a propaganda campaign to blame the original outbreak on the U.S., insinuating the virus was infiltrated into China by American servicemen who attended the Military World Games in Wuhan last October. When President Donald Trump denied this, and tried to set the record straight by calling the germ “the Chinese virus,” China’s state mouthpieces denounced him as “racist,” then defaulted to blaming Italy as the original source of the pandemic.

When President Trump imposed travel restrictions on China on Jan. 31, China — which had just forcibly quarantined tens of millions, including 11 million people in Wuhan — raised objections, calling on other countries to shun the U.S. approach. China’s state-run Global Times protested that the U.S. restrictions, “would greatly hurt global tourism and hinder people-to-people exchanges.” (That was before China imposed its own current restrictions on inbound foreign nationals.)

Somewhere in all this, while the world has been sheltering or suffering from COVID-19, China’s armed forces have found time these past few months to threaten democratic Taiwan with H-6 bombers, ram a Taiwan coast guard ship, sink a Vietnamese fishing vessel and enhance China’s turf grabs in the South China Sea. In Hong Kong, currently under coronavirus restrictions that block entry by all nonresident foreigners, Beijing’s top representative is busy demolishing whatever remained of the “high degree of autonomy” that China under treaty promised the territory for 50 years following the 1997 British handover, while China’s puppet administration in the territory arrests leading democracy advocates. So it goes, on the way to Xi’s China Dream.

Xi’s vision of China dominance dates back well before the pandemic, embedded in policies of his predecessors, which he has been refining and accelerating since the CCP installed him as general secretary in 2012 and as China’s president in 2013. China’s current trajectory was presaged years ago in the Orwellian slogan of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in which Xi had a hand: “One World, One Dream.” If that sounds enticing, beware: there is no room in that scheme for individual dreams, or free choice. There is just one devouring dream for all, defined by the CCP dictatorship, and imposed by undermining, subjugating and snuffing out the competition.

That’s precisely the collectivist vision that China is now pushing big time as a global prescription for pandemic control. Xi has called it “imperative” that all humanity join “as one” to defeat the virus. China’s ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, published an op-ed April 5 in The New York Times, saying “this is not the time for finger-pointing. This is a time for solidarity, collaboration and mutual support.”

Though it appears that finger-pointing is acceptable if the finger belongs to China. On April 26, China’s state-controlled Global Times ran an op-ed about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, headlined: “Pompeo an enemy to world peace.” Calling Pompeo “a person of sinister nature,” the Global Times accused him of “poisoning U.S. diplomacy with his personal hatred of the Chinese political system.” The essay went on to celebrate China’s handling of the coronavirus, while “the Chinese people witnessed the U.S. medical system collapse,” and warned Pompeo that any hope of driving a wedge between China’s communist party and China’s people “is delusional.”

Really? One of the most poignant videos that slipped past China’s censors just after the Wuhan lockdown in January came from a young man, speaking from Wuhan and wearing a face mask. He talked about the coronavirus outbreak, the stricken people, and above all, the horrors of China’s dictatorship. Pleading with his audience to spread the truth, he said, “Not all of us are brainwashed. We, too, want to live the life with freedom and democracy … we just have no ways, no power … we can’t beat full metal jacket and tanks.”

The real China dream, not so different from the American dream, is that someday they will.

Claudia Rosett is a foreign policy fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum.