Amid coronavirus crisis, China demonstrates that an alternative to the US-led, neoliberal order is possible

31 March 2020 — MROnline

From the series Paintings for Wuhan, China (2020) by Li Zhong

by

For nearly four decades the United States and its Western allies have proclaimed to the world that “there is no alternative” to neoliberalism, maligning the state and public sector as inefficient and unproductive. If the 2008 financial crisis loosened this myth’s stranglehold on notions of what is possible, the current coronavirus pandemic has shattered it.

The bankruptcy of neoliberalism has been highlighted by the vastly different responses of the world’s two most powerful countries to the coronavirus pandemic. After being demonized by the U.S. establishment as it came to grips with a previously unknown pathogen, China, led by its robust state institutions, has contained the virus with decisive measures and emerged as the global leader in providing medical aid and expertise to countries around the world. Meanwhile, having squandered the months to prepare bought by China’s disciplined approach, the U.S. government’s response to the pandemic has been woefully inadequate. Relying on the whims of the private sector and “free market”, the U.S. is now suffering from the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world—with infections per capita currently six times greater than China. In the wealthiest country in the world, families are pleading for donations to cover obscene coronavirus treatment costs while doctors and nurses are forced to wear garbage bags to protect themselves and patients amid widespread shortages of basic medical supplies.

Eschewing any form of solidarity or cooperation during this global struggle, Washington has doubled-down on its new Cold War strategy, seeking to shift the blame for its failures onto China and veering into naked racism. Underlying Washington’s rising hostility towards China, is a deep-seated anxiety over something that is becoming increasingly apparent to countries around the world and even the most ardent defenders of the U.S. establishment: the Chinese, state-led system is outperforming U.S. capitalism and legitimizing alternatives to a U.S.-led, neoliberal international order.

Washington’s bipartisan effort to stoke anti-Chinese hatred

Seeking to deflect attention away from the failures of his administration’s handling of the crisis, Trump has tried to stoke racist sentiment in an effort to shift the blame onto China, referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus”.

While Trump has backtracked from using the overtly discriminatory label, Washington remains intent on scapegoating China. According to a recent U.S. government cable, the White House is pushing U.S. officials to blame China for the global pandemic. Despite the Chinese government informing and working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) since December 31, 2019—giving the U.S. and the world months to prepare—the Trump administration is accusing China of orchestrating a “cover-up”. Washington is so fixated on attacking China that it has not even been able to cooperate with its G7 allies to release a statement on the crisis.

US lawmakers have joined in the racist China-bashing, with Republican Senator John Cornyn blaming “Chinese culture”, echoing the debunked myth that the outbreak began due to a woman eating bat soup, and falsely attributing the origin of the swine flu pandemic and Middle East respiratory syndrome to China. Republican Senator Tom Cotton has threatened reprisals against China due to the coronavirus outbreak, vowing that “we will hold accountable those who inflicted it on the world.” Cotton confirmed on Twitter that he meant “China will pay for this”.

Republicans have not been alone in stoking anti-Chinese sentiment, being joined by the liberal, Democratic establishment, with front-runner for the party’s Presidential nomination Joe Biden, repeatedly rejecting cooperation with China. During a CNN town hall on February 26, Biden argued that the U.S. should be challenging China more on its coronavirus response, stating that he “wouldn’t be taking China’s word for it.” Biden followed this up during the Democratic debate on March 8, where he compared the Chinese government to notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper.

The hawkish anti-China rhetoric that is emerging from Washington is emboldening anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment, which have led to a wave of racist assaults and attacks across the country since the coronavirus outbreak. In addition, fascistic demagogues such as Alex Jones, have recently compared Chinese people to “Satanists [who] like to torture children”.

Corporate media demonizes China’s coronavirus response at every step

The groundwork for such intense anti-Chinese hostility has been laid by corporate media outlets which have dutifully advanced Washington’s new Cold War agenda. As independent researcher Amanda Yu Mei-Na has extensively documented, the U.S. press has demonized China’s response to the crisis from the outset.

While China scrambled to contain a novel pathogen, with no time to prepare, amongst a population of 1.4 billion people, U.S. corporate media outlets cynically manipulated the public health crisis in order to undermine the legitimacy of the Chinese government and cast its political system as a threat to the world. The “Communist coronavirus”, readers were told, was an inevitable outcome of the “core flaws” of the China’s “authoritarian dictatorship” and demonstrated the inherent superiority of Western (neo)liberal democracy.

Every day presents a new opportunity for the NYT to turn a public health crisis into a question of CCP legitimacy. You may not like the CCP, but it’s fairly transparent what the NYT is trying to do pic.twitter.com/jwZGGCoKuD

— Amanda 余美娜 (@catcontentonly) February 9, 2020

With China having brought the outbreak under control, the media has turned to blasting the Chinese government’s lockdown and quarantine measures—now the standard response being adopted by most of the world—as “authoritarian” and “draconian”, and implemented “at great cost to people’s livelihoods and personal liberties”.

While liberal media outlets have superficially criticised Trump’s use of the term “Chinese virus”, they perpetuate the same underlying narrative that seeks to blame and punish China for the pandemic. In the days following Trump’s use of the racist label, the Washington Post and the New York Times—beacons of the liberal so-called “resistance”—have instructed Americans to “blame the Chinese Communist Party”, referred to as “the authoritarian incubator of a pandemic”. This comes after CNN suggested that China should be punished for the coronavirus outbreak during the most recent Democratic debate.

This is from yesterday’s NYT.

What is the difference, really, between Trump calling COVID-19 the “China virus” and the paper of record calling China “the authoritarian incubator of a pandemic”? They both assign intent to foreign others where none exists, don’t they? pic.twitter.com/AaTLkt7tog

— Amanda 余美娜 (@catcontentonly) March 19, 2020

WHO lauds Chinese COVID-19 response, reveals U.S. establishment’s anti-China bias

The World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted the extent of Washington and the corporate media’s anti-China bias. In stark contrast to the denunciations of the U.S. establishment, the WHO has unequivocally lauded China’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and suggested that the world follows its lead.

“In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history,” reads the report of the WHO mission of 25 international medical experts which travelled to China to investigate the COVID-19 outbreak in February 2019. “China’s bold approach to contain the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic.”

“If I get COVID, I’m going to China,” said Dr. Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s Assistant Director-General and head of the agency’s COVID-19 mission. “They know how to keep people alive.”

“What I saw was a tremendous sense of responsibility, and of duty, to protect their families, their communities, and even the world, from this disease,” reflected Aylward. “I left with such a deep sense of admiration for the people of Wuhan and for Chinese society in general.”

The WHO has categorically rejected accusations that China was responsible for the global spread of the COVID-19. According to Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “[China’s] actions actually helped prevent the spread of coronavirus to other countries.”

“I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of coronavirus, not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” said Tedros, as he is known. “In many ways, China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response.”

Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, echoed these sentiments, saying the agency has “never seen the scale, the commitment of an epidemic response at this level” and that China was “taking extraordinary measures in the face of what’s an extraordinary challenge.”

Americans can learn from China’s coronavirus response

Led by its state institutions, China has severely outperformed the U.S. in responding to the coronavirus outbreak. China’s remarkable containment of COVID-19 demonstrates that alternatives to Washington’s woefully inadequate measures are indeed possible—the issue is U.S. capitalism.

There are a number of important areas where ordinary Americans can learn from the Chinese experience.

Collective containment

China’s aggressive quarantine and lockdown measures were essential to isolating and containing the virus almost entirely to Hubei province. While these necessary steps were maligned as “authoritarian” and “repressive” by the U.S. and West when enacted by China, they have now been accepted as the standard response around the world.

According to the WHO, what was key to the success of these measures was their rapid implementation, coordination across all levels of government, and collective commitment to strict adherence during the country’s major Spring Festival or Chinese New Year celebrations.

“Achieving China’s exceptional coverage with and adherence to these containment measures has only been possible due to the deep commitment of the Chinese people to collective action in the face of this common threat,” stated the report of the WHO mission on COVID-19. “At a community level this is reflected in the remarkable solidarity of provinces and cities in support of the most vulnerable populations and communities.”

In contrast, the U.S. has had an extremely diffused, uncoordinated, and slow response to the pandemic, with state governments even competing against each other. A particularly disturbing trend of hyper-individualism has seen thousands of Americans dismiss calls for social distancing and continue to gather for festivities such as Spring Break.

While China implemented a strict lockdown that shutdown large sections of its economy for months, after only a week of social-distancing health measures, Trump and U.S. corporations are pushing to lift these restrictions and send Americans back to work to protect corporate profits.

Testing and treatment

“The first thing is, [China] said testing is free, treatment is free,” Aylward has emphasized. “Right now, there are huge barriers [to testing and treatment] in the West. You can get tested, but then you might be negative and have to foot the bill.

“In China, they realized those were barriers to people seeking care, so, as a state, they took over the payments for people whose insurance plans didn’t cover them. They tried to mitigate those barriers.”

In contrast, the U.S. has failed to make testing widely accessible—except to wealthy elites. Numerous reports have emerged of symptomatic Americans having to make repeated requests, dozens of phone calls, and multiple visits to a hospital in an effort to be tested. In a particularly poignant case, a Chinese national living in Massachusetts contracted symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and was denied testing at a local hospital on three separate occasions. She flew to China and tested positive on arrival.

If an American is able to obtain testing, their next barrier is exorbitant treatment costs, which can amount to tens of thousands of dollars.

Redirecting production to meet people’s needs

China has taken decisive actions to avert an overwhelming of its healthcare capacity and shortages in medical supplies and other public necessities. In the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, 16 temporary hospitals were built within days in order to increase the availability of hospital beds.

The Chinese government also directed many factories to reorient their activities to meet public needs and “jacked up wages to increase production of basic medical supplies”, according to the Wall Street Journal. Within a month, China’s Xinhua News Agency reported that the country’s daily output of face masks increased by a factor of 12

In contrast, relying on the whims of private corporations and the “free market”, the U.S. is beset with shortages of medical supplies and essential goods, with hospitals warning that they may be forced to close due to insufficient funding.

As overwhelmed hospitals face shortages of face masks, swabs and basic medical supplies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised doctors, nurses, and other frontline health-care workers to use bandannas or scarfs. Amidst this dire situation, U.S. states are competing against each other to obtain limited supplies.

Shortages and price gouging

Additionally, China has implemented strict policies against hoarding and price-gouging, which have kept supplies of food and other necessities available to the public. Supermarkets that attempted to profiteer off the crisis were fined hundreds of thousands of dollars and ordered to lower their prices.

As wealthy Americans empty out supermarkets and hoard necessities, The New York Times reports that “thousands of sellers…have amassed stockpiles of hand sanitizer and crucial respirator masks that many hospitals are now rationing”. Meanwhile, private hospital suppliers have engaged in obscene price-gouging. According to the head of a Georgia-based hospital, their face mask supplier has raised the price of the equipment from 58-cents to $7.

China leads global response to pandemic, while U.S. sanctions promote mass murder

The distinction between the U.S. and China has been even starker on the international stage.

During the coronavirus pandemic, in lieu of providing aid to the world, the U.S. has sown further death and destruction. Along with bombing Iraq, the U.S. has tightened economic sanctions against Iran and Venezuela which prevent these countries from purchasing medical supplies and seek to push them towards catastrophe.

The U.S. and its pharmaceutical companies are also attempting to profit off of the crisis, seeking to gain a monopoly over potential treatments. The California-based pharmaceutical corporation, Gilead Sciences, has developed a drug that could potentially treat COVID-19. With its stocks skyrocketing over the possibility of making a fortune, Gilead has been fighting a legal battle to prevent China from using this drug. The U.S. government has also offered “large sums of money” to a German medical company for exclusive rights to a potential COVID-19 vaccine, sparking outrage in Berlin.

Meanwhile, China has sent plane loads of testing kits and urgently needed medical supplies, and, along with Cuba, teams of medical experts to aid over 80 countries around the world combating the coronavirus pandemic. The Chinese government has also firmly opposed and called for the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and Iran, criticizing the unilateral coercive measures for worsening the economic and human rights conditions in these countries, and impeding their response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Unlike the U.S. which employs sanctions or bombs to pursue regime change against any country that opposes neoliberalism, China is demonstrating that it will engage constructively with countries regardless of their ideology, treating neoliberal Italy on the same level as socialist Venezuela and communist Cuba.

While China has long been an important partner for nations of the global south, in this time of crisis, China’s non-discriminatory foreign policy approach is beginning to appeal to more and more Western countries. Abandoned by the European Union, weaker countries of the region have turned to the Chinese for support.

“Italy has already asked to activate the European Union Mechanism of Civil Protection for the supply of medical equipment for individual protection,” wrote Maurizio Massari, Italian permanent representative to the EU. “But, unfortunately, not a single EU country responded to the Commission’s call. Only China responded bilaterally. Certainly, this is not a good sign of European solidarity.”

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has gone further:

European solidarity does not exist. That was a fairy tale on paper. I believe in my brother and friend Xi Jinping, and I believe in Chinese help.

The only country that can help us is China. For the rest of them, thanks for nothing.

Fearing that China is “stepping into a role the West once dominated” and may upend the U.S.-centric, neoliberal order, corporate media outlets have cynically denigrated this life-saving, humanitarian aid as a nefarious “diplomatic offensive” and “blitz” that is attempting to “curry favor” and build “soft power”.

While the U.S. establishment wastes so much time and energy demonizing China, the rest of the world appears more concerned with combating the coronavirus pandemic. As ordinary Americans suffer from Washington’s inept response to the crisis, they would be better served if their government cooperated with and learned from China.

About Ajit Singh

Ajit Singh is a journalist and graduate student. He is a contributing author to Keywords in Radical Philosophy and Education: Common Concepts for Contemporary Movements. His work has appeared in The Grayzone, Truthout, teleSUR English, NewsClick, and The Hampton Institute. Follow him on Twitter @ajitxsingh.

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