China’s Authoritarianism Facilitated Its Economic Victory Over COVID-19
Despite being the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, China’s swift and strict response to the pandemic allegedly led to a 2.3 percent increase in GDP in the year 2020, reports NPR. The pandemic posed a unique challenge for the communist government, but not an unmanageable one. Leaning into authoritarian tactics, the Chinese government was able to fight the virus while simultaneously building back its economy. Although the United States was unable to tout a similar GDP increase, the tactics used by the Chinese government to achieve this financial success came at an unimaginable price.
Wuhan saw the first cases of COVID-19 in November of 2019, and doctors and scientists began to warn the public about the dangers of the virus. At the same time, Chinese authorities silenced and censored public and expert opinion to avoid panic and continue national operations. However, the strategy did not work. Soon, COVID-19 spread to over 31,000 people, reports (WHO). The entire country soon went into a brutal lockdown, highlighted by the use of surveillance drones to detect unmasked individuals in Mongolia, door-to-door health checks by government officials, and forced isolation in government facilities, as reports The Guardian. Concurrently, financial operations came to a halt, and state’s GDP shrunk 6.8 percent in the first quarter.
Back in the U.S., a lack of transnational standards doomed the country’s ability to fight the pandemic as notes ProPublica. Millions across the country, fearful of the virus, stayed in their homes and made it a priority to leave only if necessary. Many others did not. Public officials and skeptics downplayed the virus, embracing individual choice for masks and quarantine. For the first time, a silent and invisible enemy threatened Americans, one that could neither be hunt down nor keep it outside of U.S. borders. In response to the strict lockdowns implemented in many states, a sizable proportion of the U.S. population fled their homes to states and towns with loose pandemic regulations, a decision that would only exacerbate the severity of the health crisis.
The Trump administration fed into the “go it alone” mindset of many Americans, as reports The Atlantic. A polarized country that prioritized individualism over a health crisis exacerbated one of the most significant economic disasters since The Great Depression. COVID-19 crushed small businesses, while the number of jobless Americans grew to over 14 million and hospitals reached full capacity, leading to the deaths of thousands each day from COVID-19.
Simultaneously, the Chinese government continued to report decreasing numbers of infection via its draconian lock down tactics. These extreme measures to detect and contain coronavirus did allow for a quicker return to normalcy in 2020, but as the International Journal of Refugee Law reports, public health crises do not justify the blind stripping of basic human rights
The World Health Organization however applauded Chinese efforts in unitary action against coronavirus, reports The Guardian. In the last quarter, the Chinese economy grew 4.9 percent. At the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, President Xi Jinping celebrated they country’s response to the pandemic and its economic accomplishments. The leader said, “in the global struggle against the virus, we have acted with wisdom and strength.” Despite the WHO and the government’s belief that their response was not only apt, but also efficacious, the public suffered an from nearly militaristic treatment.
The strategy to recover from the economic contraction of early 2020 was a treat to big businesses in China. The nation’s focus on increasing global exports was essential for its recovery, and CBS News reports that the Central Bank of China “provided companies with tax rebates and loans” to avoid laying off workers. Though the U.S. attempted a similar strategy, the rising number of COVID-19 cases prevented Americans from returning to work. By the end of 2020, the Chinese government encouraged the population to safely return to pre-pandemic conditions and spend. At the Gold Week, Chinese New Year, citizens spent $6.9 billion in eight days of celebration.
Although China was the only nation to grow its GDP in 2020, the state’s citizens suffered immensely for that outcome. The iron grip that the government exercised over its citizens left no room for indiscretion from the population. Today, images of music festivals, crowded flea markets, and economic recovery serve to promote China’s questionable pandemic response tactics. Nevertheless, the nation’s economic victory over coronavirus does not reflect the well-being of its population, but rather its forte in authoritarian control.