West's 'liberal' governance values quaking with pandemic
Published: Sep 24, 2021 12:03 PM Updated: Sep 25, 2021 01:41 AM
Degradation in the Western system Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Degradation in the Western system Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The raging novel coronavirus pandemic is hitting Western liberal democratic values.

Western countries like the US, Australia and France are stepping up vaccination and efforts on implementing a COVID-19 health-pass system. Compared with the past, their governments are more involved in the fight against the epidemic. They once criticized China's response to the epidemic as "authoritarian governance," but now they are pretty much doing the same, or governing in the similar approaches. This embodies how wrong they have been to politicize the fight against COVID-19.

The continuous COVID-19 pandemic poses an increasing challenge to the governance capabilities of countries worldwide. The US and other Western countries preaching liberal values of national governance are extremely fragile in this fight. On September 20, US coronavirus death toll surpassed 200,000, accounting for about a fifth of all COVID-19-related fatalities recorded worldwide. On the same day, CNN published an article entitled, "The US death toll from COVID-19 just surpassed that of the 1918 flu pandemic." It is clear that the US prevention and control efforts are not yet efficient, and speeding up vaccination has become a must. But the public's attitude toward vaccination in the US has been far from enthusiastic. In the end, the Biden administration announced vaccine mandates.  

France is facing similar predicament. To curb the spread of the virus, France began enforcing a COVID-19 "health pass." According to the rules, a health pass is required if one goes to restaurants, cafes, bars, museums, stadiums, and other public places. This was supposed to be helpful for the precise prevention and control measures. But it has met with huge protests in France, with thousands of people even taking to the streets, attacking police.

The idea of "mandates" does not work in the Western countries' political and cultural environment. They are so used to their so-called freedom and democracy. Whether to wear masks, get vaccinated, or travel to other places wherever they want are all deemed issues of "freedom" of choice. This has, in fact, increased the possibility of the spread of the virus and made it more difficult to prevent and control the pandemic. 

All these prove that social and state governance based on liberal values has their limits and that there are risks in blindly pursuing freedom regardless of the science. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught Western countries a good lesson. They should reflect thoroughly on the deep-rooted drawbacks of their social and national governance, as well as the need to learn from countries like China.

Viruses do not treat countries and their people differently, regardless of ideological and political differences. The prevention and control of it should be based on science rather than politics. For a long time, the West has believed that its liberal and democratic values are universal. It ignores two things: One, differences in each country's history, culture, and stage of development can have an impact on the perception of these values; Two, its values of freedom and democracy need to keep pace with the times.

Obviously, Western values of freedom and democracy have become rigid. And the social crisis and economic crisis caused by the pandemic have clearly unveiled the shortcomings of Western governance, guided by these values. 

The West should no longer blindly believe its values can solve all problems. It should reflect on its behaviors of constantly judging the values of other countries from a condescending position and even using double standards to criticize others. COVID-19 is a mirror that reflects limitations of social and state governance in the West. It shows that the West's governance based on liberal and democratic values is not perfect, and the worsening pandemic has seriously dimmed the light from the beacon of democracy in the West.

The author is director of the International Security Study Center at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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