Asian countries have been far more successful than the US in responding to the COVID pandemic, but you’d never know that from the US media. Even most alternative media has been largely US- & Euro-centric. While our domestic issues here are important, we have been missing out on important lessons from other places.
A partial remedy to this dearth of information is provided by the just released, “Capitalism on a Ventilator: The Impact of COVID-19 in China & the U.S.” The book is an anthology of writing by over fifty activists and independent journalists, edited by Sara Flounders & Lee Siu Hin. (I interviewed Sara about this book for my podcast here.)
The first section, “Warnings from China,” details China’s response to the virus, which included quarantines, closing businesses and schools, and restricting travel right away. The government also built new hospitals, ordered factories to increase production of medical supplies, set up free testing, and sent thousands of medical professionals to the city of Wuhan and its province, Hubei. Rent, mortgage and debt payments were frozen. Education campaigns to prevent spread were rolled out on social media, in the news and on posters everywhere. Statistics about the outbreak were public and frequently updated.
In “Truth and Propaganda about Coronavirus,” Vijay Prashad, Weiyan Zhu, and Du Xiaojun, write:
“A key—and under-reported—part of the response to the virus was in the public action that defines Chinese society. In the 1950s, urban civil organizations—or juweihui—developed as way for residents in neighborhoods to organize their mutual safety and mutual aid. In Wuhan, as the lockdown developed, it was members of the neighborhood committees who went door-to-door to check temperatures, to deliver food (particularly to the elderly) and to deliver medical supplies. In other parts of China, the neighborhood committees set up temperature checkpoints at the entrance of the neighborhoods to monitor people who went in and out; this was basic public health in a decentralized fashion.”
The contrast with the US is only too apparent. The lack of coherent leadership from the top here was certainly a factor, but regardless of that, fifty different uncoordinated state governments were going to have fifty different uncoordinated policies anyway, with a tendency for partisanship to trump common sense. This would have been the case if Hillary were president, and the CDC, etc., fully staffed. During a pandemic, central planning makes sense, but the US is not set up for that. When the US does attempt emergency response, it’s too often a sick joke, with more concern over protecting property and businesses than people. Our for-profit healthcare system is yet another barrier to effective response.
The essays in this section lay out a wealth of facts and anecdotes from on-the-ground in China, and most of it was news to me, though I’ve been making some effort to be informed. It’s just a fact that most of the US media and political class either ignores China or is downright Sinophobic. Section 2 of the book, “Blaming China,” digs into these syndromes.
Writes Margaret Kimberley (in “Opposing War Propaganda Against China,” Jan. 25, 2020):
“Now whenever we see a reference to China in the corporate media we always see the words communist party attached. This silly redundancy is war propaganda along with every other smear and slur. We are told that 1 million Uighurs are imprisoned when there is quite literally no proof of any such thing. China, the country which first experienced the COVID-19 virus, was the first to vanquish it, and has a low death rate of less than 5,000 people to prove it. We depend here in America on China to produce masks and other protective equipment but China is declared the villain. The country that within one month of realizing there was a new communicable disease gave the world the keys to conquering it.
“Instead the country which fails where China succeeds, in providing for the needs of its people and their health, is an international pariah, with most of the world barring Americans from travel and turning us into a giant leper colony. Trump speaks of the “kung flu” and the “Wuhan virus,” but it is China which conquered the disease that has killed 130,000 Americans and forced a quarantine which has caused economic devastation to millions of people here.
“But Americans get nothing but war propaganda. Trump and Joe Biden outdo one another bragging about who will be tougher to China. This week we saw the U.S. government violate international law again and close the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas.”
The history of anti-Chinese sentiment in the US goes back to the 1800s, and it’s been easy for the elite to rekindle it. Unfortunately, there’s been far too little pushback against the current flare-up, and an uptick against violence against Asian-Americans has been under-reported.
Sections 3 & 4, “Spiraling disaster in the United States” and “Systemic U.S. racism & COVID-19” cover the most familiar ground, but from a socialist viewpoint. That perspective itself will be foreign to those who keep their noses in the US mainstream press. Activists can mine these essays for statistics that illustrate just how bad it’s gotten here, and for stories from China that show how different it could be.
Section 5, “Global aid from China” ventures back into the commonly unknown and the misreported.
Writes Roxana Baspineiro in “Solidarity vs. Sanctions in Times of a Global Pandemic”:
“Chinese and Cuban doctors have been providing support in Iran, Italy, Spain and have offered their services and expertise to the most vulnerable countries in Latin America, Africa, and Europe. They have developed medicines and medical treatments such as Interferon Alpha 2B in Cuba, one of the potential medicines to combat the virus, which reduces the mortality rate of people affected by COVID19. But above all, they have offered their interest in distributing them to the peoples of the world without any patent or benefit whatsoever.”
The international contributions of Cuban doctors have long been suppressed in the US media, which is showing no more enthusiasm for reporting on Chinese humanitarian outreach during COVID. When their work is acknowledged, it is painted as mere public relations, or as a way of inserting their claws. Not that China or any country has purely angelic motives, but these accusations have the ring of US projection. Plus, it is the US that has refused to lift its sanctions against Iran, Venezuela, and other countries despite the pandemic, leading to extra suffering in such places.
The subject of China’s vaccine production and distribution is not included in this book because it’s too recent of a development, but editor Sara Flounders recently wrote about it; see “China’s global vaccines—a game changer”. So far, four Chinese companies have produced five different vaccines, which, unlike their US counterparts that need to be stored at ultra cold temperatures, only require regular refrigeration. Their efforts have also outpaced those of the US: “The state-owned Sinopharm announced on Nov. 19 that its coronavirus vaccine had been administered to nearly 1 million people with no sign of adverse side effects.”
Regardless of whether citizens of the US know about Chinese efforts, people in other nations have noticed, according to Stansfield Smith, who writes:
“From the responses to the coronavirus pandemic, the world has seen the model of public health efficiency China presented in controlling the problem at home. It has seen China’s world leadership in offering international aid and care. It has seen the abdication of leadership by the US and even its obstruction in working to find solutions. Now the US still cannot control the virus, and remains mired in economic crisis, while China is rebounding. In sum, the pandemic has made the world look at both China and the US in a new light. And it has dealt a serious blow to the US rulers’ two decade long effort to counter the rise of China.”
Indeed, historians might look back at the COVID pandemic as being the pivot point when global leadership, if not total raw power, shifted away from the United States to China. Four years of the orange menace has already put the “American” reputation on shaky ground internationally, and our pathetic flailing during this crisis has put our obstinate decrepitude on full display. Nowhere else has both the official policy of the state and the willful behavior of the population been so ruinous and irresponsible.
Says Dr Alex Mohubetswane Mashilo of the South African Communist Party, in the final article in this section:
“On the one hand, countries such as Cuba and China sent out medical brigades to assist other countries. This important intervention was based on solidarity. On the other hand, those that are guided by the profit maximising greed at the expense of human life were looking for opportunities to benefit financially from the pandemic, no matter the fatalities.”
The final section of the book, “Escalating anti-China campaign,” is a diverse collection of essays on subjects such as: US accusations of Chinese repression of Uyghurs; NATO exercises that threatened to exacerbate COVID spread even while China was bringing aid to Europe; COVID in the US armed forces; US military belligerence toward China; the color revolution in Hong Kong; Vietnam’s response to COVID; and a call from Margaret Flowers and the recently deceased Kevin Zeese to replace the US pivot to Asia with a “Pivot to Peace.”
Ajamu Baraka writes:
“The psychopathology of white supremacy blinds U.S. policy- makers to the political, economic, and geopolitical reality that the U.S. is in irreversible decline as a global power. The deep structural contradictions of the U.S. economy and state was exposed by the weak and confused response to COVID-19 and the inability of the state to provide minimum protections for its citizens and residents.
“But even in decline, the U.S. has a vast military structure that it can use to threaten and cause massive death and destruction. This makes the U.S. a threat to the planet and collective humanity because U.S policy-makers appear to be in the grip of a deathwish in which they are prepared to destroy the world before voluntarily relinquishing power, especially to a non-European power like China.
“For example, when Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo declared in public that the United States and its Western European allies must put China in “its proper place,” this represents a white supremacist mindset that inevitably will lead to monumental errors of judgment.”
While China isn’t perfect, the treatment it routinely receives from the US media and political class is decidedly dishonest. If China was a public figure living in the US, they’d be able to sue for slander. They are not the merciless, diabolical force they are made out to be. (For that, US Americans need only look in the mirror.)
Reading “Capitalism on a Ventilator” provides a welcome counter-balance to the disinformation we’re usually subjected to. Now, the book describes itself as “a project of the International Action Center & China US Solidarity Network” and as such, the range of opinion in it, while varied, lies within a particular range. That is, most of the essays are implicitly pro-China and some are explicitly pro-Communist Party. But I hasten to add that it would be profoundly disingenuous to describe the volume as merely “the other side’s propaganda.” The US propaganda machine might be the most sophisticated that has ever existed, with billions of dollars and thousands of outlets at its disposal; a collection of activists stating their views isn’t comparable in either scale or intent.
Whatever their partisan biases or political goals, the activists and independent journalists in this anthology are all dealing in facts, just through their own particular lens. China’s response to the COVID pandemic is measurably better than the US’s. Their methods are objectively more effective. The numbers don’t lie. Conversely, the US political class does so habitually.
In my opinion, the anthology plays up the socialism vs. capitalism contrast to the exclusion of broader cultural differences of east vs. west that are also significant. To wit, Pacific Asian cultures are more community-focused and less individualistic than the US at a fundamental level to begin with, such that vital social cooperation comes much more easily to them. So Thailand, South Korea, and Japan, which are not socialist states, also responded to the pandemic much better than the U.S., both in terms of policy and citizen behavior. It’s not a minor factor that mask-wearing is already a common cultural habit in all of these places. There was no “debate” about this basic method of preventing the spread of an airborne respiratory disease.
However, as Carlos Martinez writes in “Karl Marx in Wuhan: Chinese socialism is defeating COVID-19”:
“In capitalist countries, governments are essentially under the control of capital; in socialist countries, capital is essentially under the control of the government.”
This is true. And today, under the repressive control of inhumane capital, the US is becoming a hellscape.
COVID-19 is not the last pandemic we will suffer. For one thing, infectious disease is a fact of civilized life; since we domesticated non-human animals and started living in close proximity with them, we have been catching and spreading zoonotic illnesses. For another, as urban and agricultural spaces continue to intrude on wilderness, we will be coming into contact with new viruses. And finally, as climate change worsens, certain infectious diseases will spread more easily; for example, conditions that favor dengue, malaria and cholera are already expanding geographically.
So COVID-19 is, to put it mildly, a teachable moment. Looking around the world right now, we can see who is learning and who isn’t. As “Capitalism on a Ventilator” vividly illustrates, China is leading the way, and the United States is slipping into obsolescence. Those who hope to survive the coming travails can see who to follow and who to avoid.