Sunset of the West: a Chinese perspective

Today I read an extraordinary article. It is written by two Chinese scholars, Xue Ping and Gao Wenxing, and was published in the Inner Mongolia Normal Uiversity Journal (Philosophy and Social Sciences Edition) in 2010. Ten years ago, it already expressed what we are seeing today with the sunset of the West. Here is a translation of the passage that struck me:

From a global perspective, Western capitalist modernisation has achieved successes, and Western culture is therefore in a strong position. Some Westerners have tried to promote Western ideological values ​​as ‘universal values’ to the rest of the world. However, we have found that humanism, rationalism, subjectivism, and individualism – modern Western ideological values – have not only achieved the development of Western modernisation, but also have their own insurmountable contradictions. Humanism’s promotion of an anti-divine human nature degenerates into the deification of human nature; rationalism’s promotion of rational critique degenerates into rational autocracy; individualism’s promotion of individual liberation degenerates into the loss of human nature; subjectivism’s promotion of subjectivity degenerates into a lonely absolute subject. These contradictions and paradoxes lead to catastrophic ‘problems of modernity’ – the intoxication of developmental supremism, the origin of consumerist hedonism, the vanity of scientific and technological optimism, the paranoia of anthropocentrism, and the absence of a ‘home’ to which modern people can return.

 

If I get COVID-19, I would want to be in China: Foreign experts on the China Model

No introduction needed, except for names. The first is Bruce Aylward, assistant director of WHo and director of the joint WHO-China joint mission. The second is Bill Brown, professor of Xiamen University’s School of Management, who has been a permanent resident for almost 30 years.

A post-COVID-19 world: China, India and Russia to set the agenda

If the 2008 financial crisis signalled a seismic shift to Asia and away from the North Atlantic as the world’s economic powerhouse and centre of geopolitical strength, 2020 may well be its concluding phase.

It was this article by Shishir Upadhyaya (here) that set me thinking. His basic proposition is that in light of significant recent moves, both China and India will be working together much more closely in a post-COVID-19 world. The signals are already clear, despite their rocky relationship in the past: two meetings between Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi in 2018 and 2019; the explicit reminder at recent celebrations that India was the first non-socialist country to recognise the People’s Republic of China 70 years ago; and the fact that India was one of the first of 120 countries to receive from China crucial medical supplies, especially protective gears, masks and ventilators.

There are a few problems with the article, especially the suggestion that China has few friends in the world and needs India. Of course, we can expect such a perspective from such a writer, but the reality is that China actually has many friends, especially in the developing world, but also in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. The zero-sum lagards in the world, which number only a few countries, may not like this, but that is their problem. Thus, a more realistic perspective is that despite their differences, China – as the world’s largest economy – and India would do better to work together. This is not least because they may well be the only countries not to see a recession in 2020 – a short-term decline in growth, yes, but not a recession.

The missing country in the article is Russia. Not only has Russia clearly established itself as an independent global player, but it also has historically close ties with India and has developed ties with China that are arguably the closest they have been for a very long time, guaranteeing global stability (see here). Russia has also determined – correctly – that the Western liberal order has come an end and that a multipolar world is in many respects a reality.

Given that the ‘last stand of the West’ is sinking in delusions and economic disaster (see here), it is perfectly feasible for China, Russia and India that increasingly will set the agenda for a different world order. I for one find this an exciting prospect.

 

 

Chinese economic resilience during an epidemic: how citizens are supported

The systemic dimension of Chinese economic resilience may be known by many, but there are also many features at the local and household level that make a distinct difference during the time of an epidemic, or indeed any other disaster.

This article by Liang Xiaomin in the China Daily (here) explains in more detail:

Most Chinese people are staying at home and avoiding contact with others to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus amid the outbreak. Economic activities are suspended nationwide. However, the negative impacts on people’s daily life are relatively limited. Here are the reasons.

First, the timing of outbreak overlaps with the Spring Festival, reducing the negative impact on income. The Spring Festival is a 7-day national holiday in China and most companies are temporarily closed except for those in tertiary sectors like retail, accommodation and catering. Most of the employees get their payments before the holiday, while those in informal sectors have prepared cash flow in advance. For example, migrant workers who are paid on daily basis usually return home to gather with their family two weeks before the Spring Festival and get back to cities two weeks after the holiday. The overlapping period between self-quarantining and family gathering during the holiday alleviates the impact of the epidemic on their incomes.

Second, the characteristics of rural communities where most Chinese live during the outbreak alleviate their financial pressure. As of 2018, the proportion of rural population was 42.1 percent in China, much higher than that in the US (18.0 percent), South Korea (17.3 percent) and Japan (5.7 percent). The percentage remains quite high even excluding migrant workers. In China, an acquaintance society is a feature of rural communities, where rural residents benefit from interpersonal trust and intra-family transfers. Rural communities are also geographically and economically independent and can support residents’ daily life even during a lockdown for weeks. For those who plant most food by themselves, the damage of the temporary isolation is also limited.

Third, the high saving rate in China cushions the economic blow from the virus outbreak. According to OECD data, the household saving rate in China was 36.1 percent in 2016, much higher than the average level in OECD countries. These savings provide a buffer for Chinese residents against the income cut-off.

Household Saving Rate in 2016  Source: OECD

Fourth, the vulnerable are supported by the social security system. At the end of 2018, fiscal expenditure on minimum living allowances reached 146.25 billion yuan with a coverage of 45.28 million people. During the epidemic period, most vulnerable people within the system could subsist on the allowance. In the meantime, facing the temporary hardships suffered by some low-income people, the government adopted a flexible process and raised allowances with an extended coverage immediately.

Fifth, a sound internet infrastructure allows employees to work from home. As of April 2018, 95 percent of villages and 99 percent of the population have access to 4G. The fiber broadband network covers more than 95 percent villages in China. Major telecom operators in China have been cutting down internet costs in recent years. With accessible, affordable and high-speed internet, employees can work from home and get paid amid the outbreak.

Last, with the government’s strong actions to counteract the downward pressure on growth, the expectations concerning economic and employment factors remains stable. Attention is now paid on maintaining the normal economic and social order as the COVID-19 outbreak is being contained. Fiscal policies and monetary policies are adopted in a timely manner. Actions to lower the operating cost are taken in order to support enterprises. An array of aid policies stabilize expectations in regard to economic development.

Home quarantine during the Spring Festival has not led to severe blows to residents’ incomes in China. However, it should be admitted that the lockdown of Wuhan and Hubei has brought about some problems and the suspension of economic and social activities will lead to declining growth rate and increasing unemployment rate. This is also the reason why the Chinese government has adopted differentiated measures to resume production right after the outbreak is contained.

Efficiency, transparency and collectivism: long reads

A series of long reads for the day.

First, a piece in China Daily called ‘Efficient measures key to containment’ (here).

Second, a detailed timeline has been published by the State Council Information Office, called ‘Timeline of China releasing information on COVID-19 and advancing international cooperation on epidemic response’. The full text is available on multiple platforms, but I am using one on Xinhua News (here).

Since many of you probably have long hours at home, it is well worth taking your time with these texts. But here are some of the key points:

Efficiency of the socialist system

Alongside the most noticeable features – Wuhan lockdown, massive testing, strict quarantine regulations and timely treatment-there are some other crucial features: swift national mobilization, especially assistance to Wuhan on a huge scale; cooperation from the public, which made various isolation and social distancing policies a reality; and the country’s strong command system with President Xi Jinping as the core, which ensured efficient and synchronized policies in various regions.

A careful read of the ‘Efficient Measures’ piece will show how dire the situation in Wuhan was at the beginning of the outbreak, with shortages of medical staff, equipment, and hospital beds. This experience is now being seen in other countries.

The massive difference was the way the whole of the country and whole of society responded in a highly coordinated manner. Manufacturers rapidly set up supply chains for medical equipment, the system of governance meant that teams of medical workers from each province in China were despatched to Wuhan, hundreds of locations were converted for quarantine and treatment, and two specific-purpose hospitals – Huoshenshan and Leishenshan – were built for severe cases at typical ‘Chinese Speed’. There were many, many more examples.

International Transparency

The key text is the timeline, but let me quote from an article published in The Lancet (here), already on 7 March, 2020:

Health authorities there have been working tirelessly to respond to and control the COVID-19 outbreak within China, providing countries around the world precious time needed to prepare for the possible arrival of the virus inside their borders. Importantly, health authorities in China have paved the way for the international scientific community to join the fight.

China’s doctors laid the foundation for this mobilisation of scientific and research muscle by rapidly identifying the new coronavirus in the middle of the influenza season. Chinese scientists lifted obstacles to researching the virus by sharing its genome sequencing publicly. The fact that this information was shared with networks worldwide is accelerating the design of vaccines and drugs targeted at the new coronavirus.

Collectivism

Wang Zhen, from the Shanghai Mental Health Center, said … traditional Chinese culture emphasizes collectivism, rather than individualism. “For us, the nation is the biggest collective, and collectivism will be activated when the nation faces a major disaster, so that we can carry out various disease control measures better than people in some Western countries.”

But this is not some vague concept:

Liu Jinlong, a professor of agriculture and rural area development at Renmin University of China, said, “Communities are at the frontline of epidemic control this time, and our efforts to improve community management in recent years have paid off.

“In places where more progress has been made in community management, such as the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta, epidemic control measures appear to be more timely and effective.”

Post-epidemic containment: a universal health ‘app’

To conclude: what does the China Model indicate after the pandemic is contained and before a vaccine is available?

One notable feature is a universal health ‘app’, which enables someone with a ‘green’ clearance to move about. The app also includes a map that identifies where the most recent infections have been in your area, with colour coding for how long ago such infections occurred. It uses AI logorithms to ensure real-time updates. In China, it is often attached to Wechat or Alipay apps, but it is noticeable that South Korea quickly followed the Chinese model and also uses such an app.

I notice an increasing number of calls in other places for such an ‘app’ (see here), but this development is fascinating, since it indicates profound cultural differences in understandings of the state, science and technology.

In those states that derive from the ‘Western’ liberal tradition, there are deep-seated suspicions of the state, science and technology. The reasons are many, but a major one is that the regimes in question have a long history of surveillance of the population. Couple this reality with the primacy of the individual (who is, as Marx already pointed out, in a profound contradiction between being a private individual and citizen of a state) and you have situation that leads to resistance to any universal health app as an ‘invasion’ of privacy.

By contrast, as Domenico Losurdo pointed out, in the countries that have been colonised or semi-colonised in the past, the state is generally seen in a good light. To be sure, it has to be a competent, transparent and thus trustworthy state (see here). Why this trust? A strong and capable state is the guarantee of freedom from (neo-)colonial interference, but it is also necessary for ensuring improved education, healthcare, care for the elderly, a robust economy, and so on. A comparable sensibility applies to science and technology (already with Deng Xiaoping), which are seen as productive forces in their own right and must be developed to improve the wellbeing of all.

For these reasons, a universal health ‘app’ is widely approved in a country like China. Simply put, it is necessary for the common good.

 

DPRK (North Korea) has the most hospital beds per 1000 people

The following table gives an indication of how many hospital beds exist across a range of countries per 1000 people. The top spot goes to the DPRK (North Korea)!

Further, note that the top two groups (above 5 per 1000) include most of the countries in the former Soviet Union, along with most that were part of the ‘Eastern Bloc’. It also has some notably high ratios in East Asian countries. By contrast, most Western European countries fall into the 3-5 range.

A caveat or two: some countries prefer a widespread system of doctors operating outside the hospital system, with people sent to hospital only when they really need to go. You may compare with this interactive world map at the WHO website (here).

If you look at the map, you will find that Scandinavia has the highest density of doctors, but they also have quite low ratios of hospital beds. Obviously, they focus most of their medical care outside hospitals. All very well in ‘normal’ times, but not good in an epidemic.

By comparison, Russia is in the top 5 countries for density of doctors, with a little over 4 doctors per 1000 of population. It is only slightly behind Scandinavia on this count, and comparable to Germany.

But there is a significant difference: Russia also has 8.2 hospital beds per 1000 people, so it does very well indeed on both counts. This is also true for most countries in the former Eastern Bloc, although the numbers are not as good as Russia’s. In a country that straddles eastern and western Europe, Germany, the situation is also quite good: 4.2 doctors per 1000, and 8.3 hospital beds per 1000.

But the country with the best combination of both hospital beds and doctors is the DPRK: not only does it have 14.3 hospital beds per 1000, but it also has 3.7 doctors per 1000. Of all countries in the world, it is best equipped to deal with COVID-19.

You can see for yourself how other countries in which you may interested fare.