Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Beijing’s response to Covid underlines that the world needs more democracy, not less

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- How effective is the democratic system in dealing with the pandemics like Covid-19?

The article deals with the fundamental differences between democratic states and one-party state against the backdrop of response to Covid-19. The second part of the article focuses on post-Covid-19 scenarios like changes in the supply chains and the state of the China’s economy.

Two aspects of Chine’s propaganda campaign

  • China, with the lack of transparency inherent in its one-party authoritarian system, contributed to the spread of Covid-19.
  • There is a desperate effort on the part of China to erase its culpability in unleashing COVID-19 across the world.
  • It has sought to overcome the damaging global public opinion which it has suffered by a subsequent sustained propaganda campaign.
  • This has two aspects.
  • 1. Highlighting the success: One highlights the success China claims to have achieved in arresting the pandemic within the country through drastic measures on a massive scale.
  • Thereby demonstrating the superiority of its authoritarian system.
  • This authoritarian system is contrasted with the delayed and often less-than-effective measures taken in democratic European countries and the US in particular.
  • 2. Publicity of assistance provided to other countries: The other seeks blanket publicity of much-needed medical equipment and medical teams to assist affected countries.
  • The main target is Europe, though assistance to other countries is also given prominence.
  • Chinese diplomats are using Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms to create an image of a benign China providing public goods to a grateful community of beleaguered nations.
  • In reporting on India, Chinese media has often highlighted the plight of migrant workers and the frequent violations of social distancing regulations.
  • It is true that India has sought and received much-needed medical supplies from China.

What China would like us to believe?

  • China wants us to believe that COVID-19 virus did erupt in Wuhan, but it may not have originated in China.
  • That there may have been a delay in acknowledging the seriousness of the crisis, but this was due to missteps by the local leadership in Wuhan city and Hubei province.
  • Once the gravity of the situation was recognised, Chinese leaders promptly informed the WHO and shared the DNA sequence of the virus with it and other countries.
  • The unprecedented measures adopted by Chinese authorities bought valuable time for the rest of the world to get prepared to deal with the pandemic.
  • Having achieved notable success in arresting the spread of the virus, valuable assistance is now being provided to affected countries in the spirit of solidarity.
  • China’s economy is beginning to recover and this will contribute to the recovery of the global economy.

China has been highlighting its success in dealing with Covid-19 as an achievement of its single-party system. So, it is important to understand why it is not entirely true. And UPSC can frame a question like “To what extent has democratic system helped India in dealing with the corona crisis? “. Following points highlight the advantages of democracy in this regard.

Democracy Vs. One-party system

  • Has China demonstrated the superiority of China’s one-party system as compared to democracies? No!
  • There is no escaping the fact that COVID-19 may not have become a pandemic if China were a democracy.
  • With a free flow of information through an independent media and accountable political leadership, the rest of the world would have been alerted in time.
  • There are democracies which have done as well if not better than China without resorting to its sledgehammer tactics.
  • Notably, there is Taiwan, which is constantly bullied by China.
  • There is South Korea, which has even held parliamentary elections after having brought the pandemic under control.
  • Even in India, the government is providing daily updates on the spread of the virus.
  • Conclusion: The bottom line is that as a result of being a democracy, we have a better chance of knowing the true dimensions of the crisis.
  • With the democracy we have a better chance of being able to obtain constant feedback on people’s reactions and access the best advice from multiple sources.

China’s assistance and resentment against it

  • One must acknowledge China’s assistance to affected countries despite reports of defective and low-quality materials.
  • But recipients have often been “persuaded” to express fulsome praise for China.
  • This accompanying publicity overdrive has caused resentment rather than gratitude
  • Then there have been reports from Guangzhou on racial discrimination against stranded African students.
  • This has led to a sharp reaction from African countries.
  • This will be difficult to live down.

The revival of China’s economy

  • There is no doubt that economic activity in China is beginning to revive after a steep drop of 6.8 per cent (year on year) in GDP during the first quarter of 2020.
  • Latest estimates are that the Chinese economy is now functioning at about 80 per cent of the level last year, which is impressive.
  • Less dependence on export: China’s economy is not as export-dependent as it has been in the past.
  • Exports were 5 per cent of GDP in 2018 against 32.6 per cent in 2008.
  • But the external economic environment is critical for China’s globalised economy.
  • It is a significant node in the most important regional and global supply chains.

Changes in supply chains in the future and opportunity for India

  • China’s position as a significant node will be impacted by countries re-shoring production or opting for shorter and closer-to-home supply chains.
  • Japan will spend $2.2 billion to assist Japanese companies to shift units from China back to Japan or relocate to South East Asia.
  • In 2012, when China-Japan tensions were at a peak, there was a similar move and India was seen as an alternative.
  • But that opportunity was lost. Perhaps India has a second chance.
  • Decoupling from the US economy: China will suffer from accelerated “decoupling” from the US economy with COVID-19 sharpening the already fraught bilateral relations.
  • In a sense, China was already decoupled from the US by denying entry to US tech giants, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon.
  • This even while its own tech multinationals like Huawei and Alibaba have built markets in the West.
  • This cannot be sustained.
  • The winners in the more digital world which will emerge post-COVID-19 will be the American tech giants, even though the US is politically dysfunctional.
  • Democracies sometimes win even if their politics is frustrating.

Conclusion

Rather than express envy of Chinese authoritarianism, Indians should be thankful that we are a democracy. We need more democracy, not less, to overcome the COVID-19 challenge. India should also be ready to grab the opportunities in the post-Covid-19 era in the economic realms.

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