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.
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.
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.