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American vs. Chinese COVID-19 Response 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Charles Mason
March 17, 2023

Economic development and democracy can often seem to be two sides of the same coin when looking at different nations. America has long enjoyed a democratic system that continues to shape its society and politics, while China has emerged as an authoritarian one-party state. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s democracy has been compared with China’s government regarding how they’ve responded.  

America’s democracy is often praised for its ability to protect citizens’ rights and freedoms, but it has also been criticized for its slow response to the pandemic. China’s authoritarian model, on the other hand, has achieved impressive results regarding its ability to contain the virus. Yet, there are still questions about human rights violations, censorship and lack of transparency. Both systems have their merits and drawbacks, which make it difficult to definitively determine which is better than the other. Ultimately, the effectiveness of America’s democratic system or China’s authoritarianism will depend on future events. 

China’s Smoke and Mirrors Response 

China’s response to COVID-19 has been highly secretive, with the actual death toll remaining uncertain. Reports differ widely on the number of covid-related fatalities in China, but most estimates suggest that it is significantly higher than what the Chinese government officially acknowledges. This discrepancy in reporting between official numbers and calculations indicates that China may be undercounting COVID-19 deaths. 

Beijing has invested in projects and is spearheading efforts to build a “Social Credit System,” which will allow it to monitor its citizens closely. This system uses sophisticated data mining algorithms to collect information about individuals, including their economic activities, social behavior and personal beliefs. This system helps the government identify potential problems and allocate resources for public services more efficiently, including contact tracing during the pandemic. 

The Response 

China’s government quickly imposed lockdowns, tightened travel restrictions, provided financial relief packages to citizens and heavily invested in public health care systems—all measures on face value proved successful in curbing the spread of the virus within their borders. On the other hand, America struggled for months to contain the virus due to a lack of unified leadership and inadequate response strategies.  

The lack of transparency surrounding COVID-19 data makes verifying the accuracy of any reports challenging to confirm. For example, according to some reports, Beijing’s COVID-19 death toll is four times higher than officially acknowledged. Other sources also point to significant discrepancies between reported COVID-19 deaths and estimated COVID-19 fatalities in cities such as Wuhan, where many residents doubt the official COVID-19 death rate. 

Chinese Secrecy vs. American Transparency 

However, among the praises, the Chinese government has been criticized for its handling of COVID-19, as it took weeks to acknowledge the severity of the pandemic which delayed reporting of vital information. While China’s COVID-19 response has improved with increased testing and contact tracing efforts, there is still a lack of transparency concerning certain aspects of COVID-19 data, making it difficult to assess the actual death toll from COVID-19 in China accurately. 

The contrast between America’s and China’s approach to the pandemic has given rise to discussions about the efficacy of America’s democratic system and whether authoritarian models such as China’s can be prosperous in times of crisis. While some experts believe that America should take a page from China’s book, others are less convinced due to concerns over human rights violations, censorship and political transparency. Ultimately, it remains unclear which system will be more effective in handling pandemics or other significant challenges in the future.  

China is working hard to position itself economically and technologically as a leading global power. Despite the authoritarianism of its government, China has managed to use it as an asset for technological progress and economic growth. As the nation continues its rise, it will be interesting to see how Beijing balances its commitment to innovation with civil liberties. It remains to be seen whether this strategy will pay off in the long run. 

In summary, America’s democracy differs significantly from China’s government regarding how it responded to COVID-19. America’s long history of protecting citizens’ rights and freedoms was tested during the pandemic, while China’s authoritarian model achieved impressive results in controlling the virus. However, both systems have merits and drawbacks that make it difficult to determine which is more effective overall. Some argue that China’s lockdown saved lives, while others claim that it harmed more people than it saved due to the economic hardship and mental health issues caused by a lack of socializing. Similarly, there has been much debate in the United States over whether or not the less restrictive covid response resulted in more covid cases and deaths than if stricter measures had been enforced. The effectiveness of democracy versus authoritarianism will need to be tested in the future during similarly significant events.  

Author: Charles Mason MPA, is a Doctoral Candidate at Walden University in Public Policy and Administration with a Specialization in Criminal Justice. He has over 30 plus years of experience in security, local law enforcement, state corrections and military service. He is currently president of Mason Security. He can be reached at [email protected]. Twitter: https://twitter.com/DRCharlesMason

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