Floods in Europe end myth of West's governance
Published: Jul 18, 2021 09:47 PM
Flooded bank of the Rhine river is seen in Cologne, western Germany, July 15, 2021. Photo:Xinhua

Flooded bank of the Rhine river is seen in Cologne, western Germany, July 15, 2021. Photo:Xinhua

The recent disastrous flooding in western Germany and Belgium has caused at least 170 deaths. Local authorities in Germany were criticized for not evacuating people in time. Germany has always been an example of excellent governance in Europe. In people's perception, it is always meticulous, and German society is always in order. So why did such a disaster with high casualties happen in Germany?

From the Texas power outages in February to the condo collapse in Florida in June, to the floods in Germany, a series of devastating disasters this year have proven that there are serious shortcomings in some Western countries' mechanisms in responding to natural disasters. 

In fact, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been signs showing that Western governance is failing. 

In the face of major disasters and crises, the central government of a country needs to play a strong role. But Western society has found that it cannot do so.

First of all, there is a very serious problem of decentralization in the West. The West attaches importance to local, individual, and non-governmental factors in society. When a disaster occurs at the local level, it needs to be solved by the local authorities first because the central government is not able to intervene in time. 

However, if the local authorities don't have enough technology, resources, and preventative measures to handle the situation, it will lead to a dispute between the local and central governments over who is responsible. This will mean a slow response to the disaster. As for the individual and private organizations, they usually lack both resources and experiences - so they cannot help much in this case.

Second, in the West, it's almost a tradition that local people distrust and even oppose the central government's authority. This makes it difficult for some administrative institutions to get support from locals in times of a crisis. 

In addition, some Western countries do not have an effective warning mechanism to transmit needed information in time. This seems ironic since there should be no shortage of science and technology for early warnings of natural disasters in the developed world.

In contrast to the West, China has demonstrated its great advantages in governance in recent years, whether facing COVID-19 or natural disasters. China has a powerful central government and ruling party. Both have a remarkable ability to deploy and coordinate national resources. At the local level, the country's authorities can quickly set up communication and assistance mechanisms in the face of disasters to minimize harm. Moreover, the Chinese people have a strong sense of trust in the government. The interaction between people and the government is seamless - even when disasters occur.

As Russian scholar Gevorg Mirzayan commented in a recent article, "Western elites understand that while they are playing at democracy, the countries with a real order (for instance, China) are marching ahead orderly, bypassing Europe and the US at the twists and turns of history." An excellent system and governance model can truly address issues of common concern to the public. It can respond to a disaster quickly and effectively. 

The West has always believed that its governance model is superior. But its inability to handle various disasters has revealed its governance flaws. The governance of other countries cannot stop developing just because the West is facing governance chaos. As the wheel of global governance rolls forward, the countries that fail to govern will be left further and further behind by the rest of the world. They need to make up for the serious shortcomings and deficiencies in their governance as soon as possible.

Developed countries used to have advanced governance systems. But times have changed. Given numerous events in recent years, the West cannot look at the governance of other countries from a position of superiority when it comes to governance models. Quite the contrary, the West should humbly learn from the experiences of other countries in terms of political methodology. Only in this way can we achieve mutual improvements and exchanges of ideas for best practices of governance. 

The author is a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn