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Saturday, May 15, 2021

COVID AND DEMOCRACY PART ONE

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

In this article, I want to develop the argument that Western democracies have been exposed to significant weaknesses in handling Covid-19

The starting point is not Covid but the dilemma that a rising China presents to the US/UK. The argument is familiar “China is a Communist country. It is closely associated with the USSR. The USSR failed. China will also fail. Communist countries cannot succeed”

The realisation is growing across the world that China is not “a five-minute wonder”. It is stable, secure and successful and China will, before 2030, become the largest economy in the world. This is not meant to happen. For years Western leaders and academics have laughed at China’s turnaround, forever predicting its ultimate downfall but China has gone from strength to strength – displaying prosperity, not poverty; confidence, not uncertainty and forward strategies, not backward contraction.

It does not mean that China is perfect. It is not a society without its problems – widening wage differentials and the under-trained rural unemployed are two significant issues and China going forward knows, that if left unattended, the growing disparity in remuneration will create social jealousies and antagonisms. In the same way, whilst Chine excels at innovation and technological advance, there is a vital need to improve the education of the rural people so that they are included, and not excluded, from China’s future prosperity. These are big items on China’s agenda going forward.

I should interject at this point because if too much is made of China’s progress by people like myself, the charge is made that we are one-sided in our assessments and not to be trusted. The critics are wrong. The problems facing China are large and challenging – the point is that having witnessed the way in which China has dealt with the problems of reaching current levels of development and prosperity there is confidence – if current political priorities prevail – that solutions to these issues will be addressed in the future.

Any society going forward has problems – all the more so in a country with a population of 1.4bn. But Chinese eyes are not closed. There is an awareness that progress produces hurdles and obstacles but not all problems can be dealt with at the same time. There has to be a long term perspective as well as short term goals. It is a matter of political governance for the Party to meet the challenges it faces of leading China to 2049 and beyond.

I want to develop the argument that China’s ability to restrict the number of deaths to less than 10,000 is a reflection of political choices. The loss of life figure for the US/UK combined is 730,000+ on a combined population of 380m people whereas China is under 10,000 deaths on a population of 1.4bn. Figures matter. There is nothing unsavoury about comparing the number of deaths because they are an indication of the failure by governments to provide for the safety of the people for whom the State is responsible.

China’s reaction will be two-fold;- First, there is guilt at the death of any citizens in China. If it transpires that Covid-19 did originate in China, there will be a sense of governmental responsibility for the loss of up to 10,000 people. It is a big number. Something went wrong and China – in the absence of evidence that the pandemic started outside China – has to stand up and be counted. Success in keeping the number down to less than 10,000 is not a cause for celebration because there were deaths and, families of the dead have felt the ultimate pain of bereavement but it is a cause for comment about government structures and practices and this is the second point. There is a relative measure when China’s governmental actions are compared with the far greater failings of the UK, US and Indian governments. Why was the death rate in these three countries so much higher? Why were the people in the US/UK/India at far greater risk? These governments had much greater notice of the spread of the pandemic as early as the end of January 2020 – so why were their governments not able to take decisive action to protect their people? Why has almost three-quarter of a million people died in two of the most advanced countries in the world with all the advantages of modern hospitals, modern forms of communication and a health system blessed with the most up to date equipment and the best trained medical personnel? And, why today are was seeing such distressing scenes from India as people die on the streets through lack of oxygen and crematoriums are turning away families wishing to bury their family members?

The answer to these questions lies in the failure of governance. It is a question of leadership and a question of politics and these are the matters that will receive increased focus going forwards when the post-mortems on the US/UK government performance begin in earnest – when the anger of the bereaved begins to be felt – when the key issues are minutely reviewed and re-assessed. Why has “One Man One Vote” failed 730,000+ people in the US/UK? What does it say about democracy in the US/UK that the political leadership made so many bad decisions when challenged to protect the well-being of its people? Why have so many people died?

Part Two to follow

GRAHAM PERRY

APRIL 2021

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