China’s Lies Don’t Excuse Our Shortsightedness in Response to COVID-19.

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  • 03/02/2023

The government of China lies routinely: they lie about their economic figures, they lie about their crime statistics, they lie about their efforts to combat climate change, they lie about treating foreign businesses fairly, they lie about their human rights record. Now, they are lying about the extent of the COVID-19 outbreak there.

America should not allow China’s failures to eclipse our own ... We need to get our own house in order, first.

As such, China bears a great deal of responsibility for letting the coronavirus out into the world and leaving us unprepared.

But America should not allow China’s failures to eclipse our own. If blaming China and demanding that they (quite literally) pay for the damages that COVID-19 eradication efforts are costing around the globe means that we ignore our manifold institutional failures, then we should just let the authoritarian dragon be.

We need to get our own house in order, first.

Yes, China's leaders were warned by their own scientists, as early as January of 2019, that conditions around Wuhan were ripe for the emergence of a novel virus. And granted, the Chinese Communist Party's irrational obsession with controlling all information in the country created the culture of silent repression that prevented doctors and scientists there from sharing information in the organic way that is necessary to study quickly emerging threats. Dr. Li Winliang was not a whistleblower—he was a literal member of the Communist Party and seemed sincere in his contrition for speaking about the virus, and his treatment was an exhibit of how China could have handled this better.

But everyone from Bill Gates to Barack Obama to George W. Bush has been warning Western leaders for well over a decade that this sort of event was inevitable. A viral pandemic was a virtual certainty this century and, although China is uniquely situated to breed them, deadly diseases spring up all over the world—including North America just eleven years ago. (In fact, the deadliest epidemic of the last century had a Midwestern origin, not an Iberian one, as the Spanish Flu actually started in Kansas).

Since late January, the whole world was aware of the danger—over a full month before the first American fatality. We had plenty of time and need to learn from our mistakes.

[caption id="attachment_182170" align="aligncenter" width="1920"]Coronavirus testing. Coronavirus testing.[/caption]


The absurd accusations of racism that China leveled against countries and companies that took precautionary measures and halted trade and travel with China should serve as a reminder of how untrustworthy such a thin-skinned regime is.

The equally absurd, and even more oblivious, parroting of such accusations by leading media and political figures in the West should likewise provide, yet another, data point demonstrating how the pursuit of controversy and disaster have poisoned public trust in our core institutions. We had every way of disseminating accurate, or at least helpful, information to nearly every person on the planet, but our politicians were busy sniping at each other or whinging about what to call the disease, and our press was busy "covering" it.

The utter failure and corruption of the World Health Organization (by the Chinese Communist Party) greatly impeded global preparedness. It was solely on information from China that the WHO declared, on January 14th, that the virus was not transmitted from human to human—a pronouncement with tragic consequences. China knew better, ignored the data and destroyed records, costing the world precious weeks of preparation time, and an unknown number of lives.

Meanwhile, America's overly-precautionary and protectionist bureaucracies at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control cost us further time and further lives. The FDA and CDC were not forced into rejecting WHO testing kits, banning the importation of masks, monopolizing testing, limiting production, and otherwise strangling the ability of our system to respond.

Pointing the finger to a corrupt, autocratic regime is easy; taking account of the many failings and policy blunders we’ve made? Much harder—but much more critical.

Exactly how many lives could have been saved had San Francisco-based Nurx, Inc. not been prevented by the FDA from shipping their coronavirus home-testing kits is unknowable, but it seems likely that at least some of the stress facing America’s overburdened health care workers could have been relieved. Perhaps, instead of telling doctors and nurses how to make do with less, the CDC could have helped make it easier to procure facemasks and other PPE and prevent some of the over 9000 medical workers from contracting the disease.

Our response right now should be focused on reforming these agencies, not seeking hypocritical redress from China.

Yes, China should be called out for allegedly hoarding tons of masks and other protective devices in January and February, strongly indicating they were aware that the infection rate was extreme. But neither the US or EU have remained faultless through the crisis: America stands accused of stealing medical equipment from other nations, while the major EU members have been giving hard-hit-by-the-virus Italy and Spain less of a hand and more of the finger.

And yes, predictably, the Chinese government has been sowing conspiratorial seeds among the world’s media over the last two months, seeking to shift the blame. They’ve blamed COVID-19 on the US military, the Italians, and now foreigners. None of this should be surprising, however, from a country that routinely revises their history textbooks to focus on “Socialist Core Values” instead of historical facts.

President Donald Trump, however, has also issued a bewildering array of half-truths, complete inaccuracies, conspiracy theories, and nonsensical commentary about the epidemic. While his own intelligence agencies were advising him that China’s leaders were lying, the president was tweeting praise for China’s handling of the crisis and in March, again stated,  “We didn’t know about it until it started coming out publicly.”

From blaming his predecessor for US deficiencies in testing, “We inherited a broken test,” to claiming that insurers would waive COVID related co-payments, White House officials have had to repeatedly issue corrections, addendums, and clarifications to what the president ‘actually meant.’ Such prevarications and false assertions further undermine trust in a government Americans should have been able to count on in a dire time.

Pointing the finger to a corrupt, autocratic regime is easy; taking account of the many failings and policy blunders we’ve made? Much harder—but much more critical.

[caption id="attachment_182167" align="aligncenter" width="1920"]New York subway. New York City subway.[/caption]


Recently, President Trump has declared he wants to cut off funding for the WHO—which may be tempting, but extremely ill-advised amid such a tumultuous geopolitical terrain.

Instead of knee-jerk decisions that could cause irreparable harm to our soft power, Americans should be asking a very important question: how do we prevent this from happening again?

The WHO is already disproportionately influenced by the Chinese. It is difficult to see how making the agency even more dependent on China leads to a good outcome. Besides, considering how the US is widely seen to be the key manipulating figure behind international organizations like the World Bank, the IMF, and various United Nations agencies, President Trump can expect such a move to produce yet even more accusations of hypocrisy from the world. Stopping our payments to WHO will further alienate America from the world at a time when we need the exact opposite, while simultaneously increasing China's influence.

Instead of knee-jerk decisions that could cause irreparable harm to our soft power, Americans should be asking a very important question: how do we prevent this from happening again?

Blaming China may be satisfying, but it will prevent us from effectively fixing the multiple incompetencies that lead us here. The CCP was not the problem here; the CDC was. China’s lies don’t excuse our stupidity and shortsightedness.

Of course, the world needs to deal with China’s dangerous intransigence in some way. In a globalized world, nations need to take responsibility for domestic issues that can lead to billions of people on functional house arrest and an arrested global economy—it’s no longer just your problem China: though your Great Firewall can keep out South Park and YouTube, it can’t keep contagions in.

China is an irresponsible and untrustworthy global partner for many reasons. But ultimately, none of that matters if we can’t trust our own institutions and leaders to guide us through crises, not of our creation. Blaming China, demanding they pay trillions in compensation, will not prevent a future lockdown.

None of us can stop outbreaks in China—but we can do our part to stop epidemics at home.

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