US justifies 1 million COVID deaths with ‘democracy,’ ‘freedom,’ but they didn’t choose to die this way: scholars
Published: May 07, 2022 06:26 PM
A traveler walks through terminals at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, the United States, April 14, 2022. Photo:Xinhua

A traveler walks through terminals at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, the United States, April 14, 2022. Photo:Xinhua

Editor's Note:

The US has just surpassed the 1 million threshold of COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic more than two years ago, a grim milestone that once seemed unimaginable but has now truly occurred in the world's sole superpower. Will it prompt some reflection within the country on the US government's response to the deadly virus? How should we see the contrast between the US and China, as China holds firmly on to its dynamic zero-COVID policy with a people-centered approach? The Global Times interviewed a Chinese scholar and a US scholar on their views about these issues. 

Zheng Yongnian Photo: Courtesy of Zheng

Zheng Yongnian Photo: Courtesy of Zheng

Zheng Yongnian, professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen and president of the Institute for International Affairs, Qianhai

The US has "laid flat" in the face of the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic because it sees containing the virus as an impossible mission. The pandemic has killed over1 million US citizens, with three-quarters of them being the elderly. From how the US has dealt with the pandemic, in addition to the lack of effective means, we can also see the role that social Darwinism has played.  

The US has given up containing the virus, not because of democracy and freedom it has been touting, but because it has no other choice. The US has never made reflections, nor will it do so. The global financial crisis in as early as 2007 and 2008 did not make the US reflect upon itself, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic. When a society has flaws but shifts the responsibility to another country, it doesn't progress.

So when the Chinese government undertakes strict prevention and control measures and views all people's lives as equal, the US resorts to its "human rights" rhetoric and uses ideology to cover its failure and attack China's success in fighting the pandemic. As the US sees it, China's success comes as a result of authoritarianism, which is not worthy, while although the US has failed, it still feels proud because it claims itself a "democratic" and "free" country. 

But did the 1 million Americans choose to die freely? No. They died because there was not adequate medical care. No one would choose to die this way, but the US justifies their deaths with "democracy" and "freedom."

Kenneth Hammond

Kenneth Hammond

Kenneth Hammond, professor of East Asian and global history at the New Mexico State University

The situation here in the US remains very confused and varies greatly from place to place across the country. Mask mandates have been lifted, even on airplane flights. Some people continue to exercise personal caution, but most people are not wearing masks most of the time. I think many Americans are emotionally exhausted, and are no longer willing to accept that the pandemic requires serious measures. I wouldn't say things here are back to pre-pandemic normalcy, but it does seem that most people want to pretend that the pandemic is over. 

The US’ COVID policies have allowed some economic functions to carry on, but things have still been seriously disrupted, and of course now as businesses are reopening, there are many problems with getting people back to jobs that they no longer see as worthwhile, dealing with supply-chain issues and many other difficulties. So the overall effect of keeping things open has been very mixed. Profits for corporations are at record highs, but the situation of working people continues to deteriorate. Young people are facing massive debt from student loans. And although the drive to recruit workers has led to some increase in wages being offered, inflation has more than eaten up any gains that were made. In much of the world, the effects of COVID-19 continue to be quite serious, and the prospects for the global economy are in many ways only getting bleaker.

The contrast between China's policies and those which have been adopted here, even in states where things have been relatively progressive like my home in New Mexico, has been stark. China is regularly criticized in the mass media here in the US for its efforts to control the virus and save lives. But the difference between fewer than 5,000 deaths and over 1 million is never mentioned. 

China has decided to prioritize human health and safety over maximizing economic interests, while in the US the choice has been to keep the emphasis on the economy, generating huge profits for corporations and drastically enhancing the wealth of billionaires, while allowing 1 million people to die needlessly. The ideology of "liberty" and "freedom" has been used effectively to suppress the voices of those calling for a more people-centered approach. If China had followed America's path there would be more than 4,000,000 deaths. If the US had followed China's path we would have fewer than 1,000 deaths here. 

Of course, part of the overall problem here is our federal system, which means that COVID-19 policies differ, often dramatically, from one state to another. Given the mobility of people within our country, this tends to negate even the best policies pursued by some states as travelers from less well-managed states bring infections along with them. There has been very little national coordination or effective leadership, certainly under Donald Trump and really continuing under Joe Biden.