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COVID AND DEMOCRACY PART 4

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Graham Perry
Experienced Arbitration Lawyer | China & Chinese Business Affairs | Public Speaker/Lecturer.

VACCINATION, INDIA, AND RACE HATE IN THE USA

MAY 2021

This is the last in a series of four articles on the topic of Covid and Democracy.

Democracy is often used by the US/UK and other countries as the point of significant difference relied upon by the West to undermine and belittle China. The West’s thinking is along with the following; The West is democratic; it has one man, one vote; tyranny has been overcome; the people are in control; they are free to elect their governments; democracy has trumped autocracy. In these articles, I have argued that democracy is about freedom. Still, it is also about governance and the government’s credibility, and when Covid-19 challenged all governments the world over, why did the US/UK perform so badly and, relatively speaking, China perform so well? And in support of my argument, I looked at the death count in the three countries. In the US/UK, with a combined population of 400m, why was the death count as high as 730,000 and in China, with a population of 1.41bn, why was the death count as low as 10,000?

One person questioned my personal sense of morality in comparing the figures for loss of life. But democracy is about the ability of governments to look after the safety, health and well-being of their people and by that standard, the US/UK failed, and China succeeded. As China is battered for its reliance on the leadership of the Communist Party and its alleged totalitarian apparatus, which, the critics say, denies freedom to Chinese citizens and condemns them to servitude, hardship and oppression, it is worth asking the question which population was better looked after by its government? One government, after initial hesitancy, took decisive action, imposed a lockdown, closed the streets and the parks and the airports whilst two other governments were indecisive, gave contradictory messages and were, ultimately, casual with the lives of their two peoples.

Individuals, CEO’s, heads of schools, parents, hospitals, plants and all organisations are in one way or another put to the test. The question is asked – Can they rise to the occasion and provide leadership when danger threatens? It is for these reasons that reviewing the figures for loss of life is a very correct and relevant format to use in assessing leaders’ abilities to lead. Xi Jinping rose to the occasion. Johnson and Trump fell short.

So how do we assess the role of vaccinations in the pandemic? In one sense, Johnson had a big achievement. He was able to secure the jabs and make them available in an organised manner to the UK people. Trump was slower, but Biden has made vaccination the main policy and has provided increased protection to US citizens. And, of course, looking after your constituents is an achievement. It is part of the test of the Government to protect its people, and providing vaccination is evidence that the people have been protected – even if the same government was very slow in imposing lockdown as late as March 2020, causing unnecessary deaths.

But UK vaccinations have gone to UK citizens, and US vaccinations have overwhelmingly gone to US citizens. China, with a population of 1.4bn, has pursued a quite different path. First, it attacked the pandemic – relentlessly and aggressively. Contrary to the casual approach of Trump and Johnson, Xi Jinping closed down cities, airports, trains and shops. Citizens were instructed, not asked, to remain indoors on pain of arrest. Two large hospitals were built from scratch with 8 days. The pandemic was beaten back. Strong and decisive action protected the people of China, and deaths have been restricted to less than 10,000 people. Second China, instead of setting about the vaccination of all its people, decided on a dual policy. Vaccinations were necessary for China, and vaccinations were necessary overseas. The numbers tell a story about governance and democracy.

7 May 2021 was a significant date – the WHO added Sinopharm’s vaccine to its emergency use list for the Covid-19 pandemic – the first from a developing country. Sage experts conducted on-site inspections at the production facility in China before approving worldwide distribution. The FT recently reported that Chinese jabs were dominating vaccination campaigns in Latin America. China has shipped more than half of the 143.5m doses of vaccines delivered to the region’s 10 most highly populated countries. China – 75.8m doses; AstraZeneca + Pfizer – 59m doses and Russia 8.7m.

The Turkish Health Minister, Mr F Koca, said Turkey prefers China’s “inactivated vaccines” to the technology of Pfizer/Moderna because the latter “require difficult and costly cold-chain handling compared with China’s inactivated vaccines”. The UAE and Bahrein have officially registered the Sinopharm vaccine, and inoculations have already started for residents in Abu Dhabi. Morocco has ordered 10m doses, and Jordan is carrying out Sinopharm clinical trials.

Clare Wenham, Assistant Professor of Global Health Policy, said,” We see increased Chinese dominance as a health power”. This reflects Xi Jinping’s Win-Win philosophy – a recognition, like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), that the World prospers if progress is shared. The West will misrepresent China’s policy because the West is challenged by China. Why doesn’t China use all its vaccine for its 1.4bn people? Because of China-controlled Covid-19 by decisive action in February/March 2020. US/UK deaths – 730,000. China deaths – less than 10,000. The numbers matter. They tell a story. Whereas the US and the UK, with one eye on electoral popularity, are gobbling up every jab available without supplying to the rest of the world, China has maintained tight control over Covid-19 at home while distributing considerable doses to the world at large.

They also tell another story. China has been represented as a mass manufacturer of soft consumer goods as Western companies piled into China from 2000 onwards – sweaters, trainers, deckchairs, trinkets, fireworks. Now Made in China will be remembered for life-saving vaccinations and drugs. Beijing’s strategic pivot away from low-tech manufacturing to quality construction projects, highways, new ports, and now vaccinations will change how developing countries view China. The West will say that China seeks political leverage and power in political circles. Actually, No. China’s achievement will be the reputational gain – a country fully aware of the vital need to help and assist the world’s countries in achieving mutual prosperity. This is not hegemony but a realisation that the long-term gain to the world community is to facilitate well-being, growth and progress. Past world powers have all been hegemonists and imperialists. The significance of China will be that “Win-Win” prevails over “All-For-Me”. China will not exploit weaker countries for their own benefit. This will only become apparent when historians come to write the history of the current century.  But significant world changes are taking place now that will grow in importance as the Century progresses, as the US settles in at #2 economic power. China champions a new attitude to world development.

China and India are often thrown together in comparison. Both have large populations – 1.4bn/1.3bn – both are non-White countries – both became independent at the same time, China in 1949 and India in 1947 – and both countries expelled the British. It was not an accident of history that the British took the opium seeds from the hills of India and converted them into the drug that created addicts the length and breadth of China. The similarities disappear when it comes to the Pandemic as we view the distressing Indian TV footage of families carrying their dead ones to crematorium only to be turned away at the gates; the individual Indians pleading for help with oxygen, hospital beds, and medical treatment. The loss of life is considerable, and on 27 April, India recorded 3,876 deaths according to the Health Ministry – statistics likely to be very under-expressed as they will not include deaths at home or full burial numbers. India is grappling with the world’s worst Covid-19 epidemic as cases on 27 April rose by 329,942. Hospitals are full. Supplies are short, and human misery is on every street corner. On 20 May, India reported 276,110 cases over the last 24 hours and 3,874 deaths, bringing the country total to 25.77 million infections and 287,122 fatalities.

Chinese people are not better than Indian people. There is no racial argument here at all.  But Chinese authoritarianism is better than Indian democracy when it comes to governance and the protection of the public. Having “One Man, One Vote” counts for nothing if the government cannot organise oxygen supplies, deliver hospital beds; procure vaccinations; set up vaccination centres; provide emergency crematoria, arrange home visits, organise mourning periods; protect schools; arrange on-the-spot testing.  It is back to the wider question of What Works. When crisis comes, and a Government has to look after its people, the system of Indian democracy failed the Indian population, and as we advance, this lesson will not be lost on developing countries trying to find the right formula for bringing law, order, prosperity, housing and medical supplies to their people.

Finally, I want to comment on the surge in anti-Asian racism in the US since the pandemic commenced. On 29 March 2021, 65-year-old Vilma Kari was brutally assaulted on her way to church in New York. The crime made headlines in her home country of the Philippines, where Vice President Robredo and Senator Pacquiao, both prospective presidential candidates, were quick to pick up on video film that showed the assailant, Brandon Elliott, a 38-year-old homeless man, yelling, “You don’t belong here” before kicking and punching the victim in the face.

The incident was part of a recent spike in anti-Asian violence across the US. Even as overall hate crimes declined in 2020, it is the case that anti-Asian hate crimes reported to the police rose nearly 150% in 16 of the largest US cities, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism in California State University, San Bernandino.  The trend was underlined by the 16 March 2021 killing of six women of Asian descent near Atlanta, Georgia, which ignited protests in the US and sent shockwaves through Asia.

Specifically, to China, an assault on a 76-year-old woman in San Francisco triggered anger when shown on video in China, which led to a strong narrative about the US abusive treatment of native Indians, African slaves and Chinese labourers.

Many blame former President Trump, who appealed directly to white nationalism and stirred anti-China sentiment at home and abroad, often referring to Covid-19 as the “China virus” and attacking China’s trade policies as “economic rape”. And the incidence of hate crimes has not abated under President Biden.

Yuen Yuen Ang is a Politics Professor at the University of Michigan. He writes that “It is common to portray US-China relations as ‘a clash of civilisations’ – two cultural opposites with nothing in common. This narrative is unhelpful and misleading. It induces Americans to perceive the Chinese as weird and consequently threatening…While most people avoid overt racism, orientalism creeps in easily and unconsciously as people view China as the land of lanterns and dragons. Imagining an entire race of people as strange and exotic dehumanises them. Once a person ceases to see other people as human, it becomes easy to hate and inflict violence. Racism stalks the streets of US cities. It was there before Trump, but his free-wheeling right-wing US First agenda has fired up racial antagonisms with the last year of his term in office dominated by an anti-China agenda. “Reds Under the Beds” was a term from the Cold War of the 1950s. It has been revived as Pompeo and now Blinken claim that China is a genocidal nation. It is not a surprise that the Ash School of Government at Harvard University found that Chinese students and tourists returning home after a visit to the US had an even greater commitment to China and its style of democracy.

Covid-19 is a pandemic that has thrown up many questions about individual well-being, public health policies, government capability and democratic effectiveness. There will be investigations into the origins of the virus, the performance of governments, the policies on vaccination and vaccination distribution. There will be allegations and counter-allegations. Big issues are on the table with important consequences for the long term well-being of the Earth’s inhabitants, and answers will be sought to key questions relating to the ability of democratic and authoritarian governments to handle the demands made upon them by the virus. There is an indication that control of the virus may now be underway. The focus will switch to how governments discharged their primary responsibility to maintain the safety and well being of their populations.

GRAHAM  PERRY

MAY 2021

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