The United States’ response on the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has been and currently is dismal. Our government has treated the deaths of over a million people domestically and the disablement of millions of people with Long COVID as mainly a political football used to score points. The virus continues to kill and disable people in large numbers, though a carefully coordinated governmental and media back-to-normal campaign has effectively terminated our mitigation response and led to a mass psychological response straddles the borders between amnesia, delusion, hopelessness, and ignorance. Yet we must not forget that there was another path forward, containment, that was successfully demonstrated for years by China. As this policy trajectory was dangerous to short term capitalist economic interests it was constantly belittled and attacked with racist tropes.
We must address the xenophobic and yellow peril framing of “authoritarian” China. Here’s how the New York Times framed the world historic response China employed to protect their population from COVID-19 in January and February 2020, pre-empting even the thought of taking effective action in the United States:
China, where the Maoist communist dictatorship imposed mass social control to barricade people into their own houses who where then forced to scramble for food and fail to get medical care to avoid a simple cold that might not even spread between humans. This evidenced a kind of deficit of intellect and lack of respect for freedom The West would never abide by. In any case, people that should still be buying western opium are making things worse for themselves, not better. They’re only going all out like this because the leadership knows the people don’t trust them. Also, China didn’t do enough, they covered up the nascent epidemic, and let the virus get out of control making it our problem.
Now in the fourth year of the pandemic, which could have been stamped out within weeks in 2020, we can really pat ourselves on the back for our superior intellects and respect for human life and liberty with millions dead and millions more trapped in indefinite protective isolation.
The rabid anti-communist ideological training instilled by American institutions and media combined with the assassination, imprisonment, and political neutralization of communist leaders and labor organizers during the Cold War left a material void in our political organizing. This void has made it easier for even leftists to simply absorb the idea that this country is superior to China even as we ruthlessly criticize America for its virulent racism, extrajudicial state murders, lack of democracy, precarious working conditions, endless aggressive wars, and a foul history of slavery and native genocide. Instead of asking, does China know something that we don’t know, we instead asserted that they must simply be immoral for taking the virus seriously.
In hindsight, with China letting the virus rip in November 2022, it is now obvious that the Chinese strategy was to wait out what should have been a limited number of viral waves and use the time to vaccinate as many people as possible. These efforts saved millions of lives and between 2020 to 2022, reduced the rate of viral mutation by cordoning off over a billion potential hosts. It is a travesty that the Communist Party of China switched to a western strategy and sacrificed as many as an estimated 1.7 million people, but we must also recognize that this is a much better result than if they had let it rip from the start. Without the vaccine, the death toll would have been much higher. Still, while we can recognize that partial victory, we must also remember that the virus ripping through China is disabling and killing people at high rate right now which is an ongoing horrendous political failure whose emotional acuity is only dulled by how nearly indistinguishable China’s policy is from The West now.
While China did eventually fail its people the way the West has, we must consider the fact that we failed both our own people and China’s. If many countries had taken a Zero COVID containment approach in early 2020, as many socialist countries and New Zealand did, and sent sufficient aid to developing countries, we could have eliminated COVID-19 within a few weeks or months much the way we did with SARS in 2003.
At the time, it seemed that the Trump administration was somewhere between incompetent and intentionally bungling of the national and international response, wasting months of preparation time, obsessed with cruise ships, and failing to produce tests. However, these days, we know a Democratic administration would have done much the same, but would have simply claimed the same behavior was being smart and practical given that Biden has continued the Trump policy trajectory (as can be clearly seen on the cumulative death chart which is nearly a straight line until Spring 2022).
Even the imperialist Atlantic Council dropped this quote in their report on China’s COVID response while in the next paragraph trying to weasel out of the implications by whining about how China is really responsible for our failures since the pandemic started there:
“[Financier Eric Li, in an essay for The Economist in December 2021, used the high number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States, Brazil, and India compared to China as primary evidence that liberal democracy is failing while the Chinese governance system (which he attempted to characterize as a form of democracy) is succeeding. “Some may object that this [low number of COVID-19 deaths in China] was because China restricted freedoms more than ‘democracies,’ ” Li wrote. “But what kind of democracy would sacrifice millions of lives for some individuals’ freedom not to wear masks? It is precisely in this way that liberal democracy is failing its citizens.”]”
Mr. Li makes a very interesting and still relevant point.
In any case, it would behoove more American leftists to learn more about China, the Chinese Revolution, and to stop reading about other countries in the corporate press uncritically. It’s funny that anti-communists get so heated at China when the capitalist roaders defeated the proletarian communists in the 1970s. China today is a strange entity, a mostly capitalist economy with the communist party in command, but infiltrated by pro-capitalist elements.
Widespread anti-communism, anti-asian racism, and xenophobia blunted a containment response that could have prevented the ongoing horror of the past several years. Even after the initial western policy failure, wild eyed John Birch Society-esque accusations that people concerned with public health were trying to create a Chinese authoritarian hellscape have likely led to hundreds of thousands of deaths domestically by inducing policy paralysis.
One can imagine an alternative history where the left instead defended China’s response and castigated the racist death cult that runs our society instead. This would in turn pay dividends down the line when the left may have to organize against an aggressive U.S. war to preserve the empire against China’s economic rise. Unfortunately, anti-Chinese racism (and because racism is stupid, general anti-asian racism) is now even more firmly embedded in the American psyche.
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