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On the Infatuation with China as Panic

On the Infatuation with China as Panic

Monday, 23 March, 2020 - 12:15

It may be premature to excessively speculate about a post-Covid 19 world. With that, some of our behaviors and positions might affect the shape of this future, whether it is near or distant. Among these positions is an emerging, sometimes unreserved, admiration for China.

Here, there is a need to start with two clarifying comments.

First, amongst the worst consequences generated by the recent ongoing disaster is the explosion of racism against the Chinese (their food, which they have been eating for thousands of years, the term “Chinese virus”…), which China responded to with ridiculous and conspiratorial claims that the American army is responsible.

Second, the ideas and treatments presented by China are irrefutably a part of what is needed by the world and part of its contributions. For the tremendous capabilities of a country like China mean that it necessarily holds very important ideas and treatments (and preventive tools) that may be needed by any country.

However, this admiration for the Chinese method, which is based on control, interdiction, and domination, is nonetheless striking. Even some neo-liberals, not just regular liberals, who emphasize the primacy of freedom and choice, took part in this carnival of admiration. Their eyes seemed focused on two things: the decrease in the number of cases and the “economic success” that they expect China will have after Covid-19. Freedom and choice, as far they are concerned, are at the bottom of their list of priorities.

The astonishment would have been lessened a little if these admirers had tied this to the exceptional present circumstances. If, for example, they said: under exceptional circumstances, exceptional measures are acceptable. But to deal with the exception as a rule, as a model worth replicating, that is something different.

It is understandable that those who have totalitarian sympathies are infatuated with China; they like governance through orders and living under a state of exception that becomes the norm, especially since the other side of the coin of this position is a critique of Western democracy, which “is concerned only with profits” and “is not concerned with people”. However, when this stance is issued from non-totalitarian milieus, it is an expression of panic: we want the solution now. It suddenly emerged in China so bring it from China. Positions and opinions are thus based on what was presented in the most recent news broadcast or the most recent statistic on the topic.

Panic is contagious by definition, especially when fear triggers our herd instincts. The more afraid and unable to control the source of fears, the greater the influence these herd instincts have on us.

However forgetfulness is also inherent to panic, including what we know well: is it the right time to remember that China has been ruled by a single party for 70 years or to remember Tiananmen Square, the Uyghur Muslims’ conditions there, the people of Tibet, or the plight of Hong Kong? None of the admirers of the Chinese model recall these bitter experiences or translate them into numbers of people killed or died.

Indeed, many rulers are investing in this state of panic. One of them, Benjamin Netanyahu (an economic neo-liberal), wants the fight against Covid-19 to follow the same lines as the fight against terrorism, including spying on the cell phones of those who catch the virus.

What is also forgotten under the weight of panic is that technocratic and instrumental solutions are not reassuring even when they "succeed”. The bearing that they will have on our freedom and ability to decide how we lead our lives in the future will be huge.

Moreover, those who are afflicted by panic stick to their model for salvation. They cannot afford the luxury of comparing their methods with methods that are less coercive but necessarily being any less successful, like the ones used in South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan or Hong Kong. The idea of generalizing testing and employing solid medical team whose work is integrated with and is complementary to the state and wider society’s other actions seems like a luxury and is expelled by the urgency of panic. This all certainly assumes a caretaking role for the state and the possibility of using a bearable degree of coercion.

One who seeks salvation does not question the savior. The fact that China’s rulers had known about the issue and concealed it for weeks, thereby facilitating its spread, is irrelevant now. Only those who deal with the matter without panic, or with less panic, add “if you believe them” when they speak about China’s rulers.

Putting more effort on demanding a wider globalization that is fairer in its distribution of gains and prosperity and more universal in governance and legislation would probably be nobler than demanding strict nationalist regimes that "work for our interest" behind our backs or above our heads.

Such a discourse resembles more those who call themselves democrats and liberals, even though they are currently afflicted with an infatuation with China. However, this requires that we put the panic aside first.

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