With more European countries and US states planning to reopen the economy as the coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on their economies, the world is now entering a global test of governance in which China is now a leader in work resumption. However, Chinese experiences have not been taken by the West, which adopts more aggressive policies, which mean more risks and could lead the world to a more dangerous place.
For China, consolidating the phased results of epidemic control and accelerating business resumption is a daunting task, as the reopening criteria is much stricter in China compared to that in the West. This will be a competition that China can’t lose, analysts said.
China had paid a heavy social and economic price in the past three months in its fight against COVID-19. Multiple systematic advantages, including top-down effective governance and ability to mobilize social resources, have helped the country get through the most difficult time and gradually back to normalcy.
China was the first to reopen society as the pandemic continues globally and set the example for other nations, but political and ideological bias, intensified by a US-led public opinion war against China, would hinder Western nations from taking Chinese experiences as reference in cautiously resuming business activities amid a resurgence of sporadic cases, analysts said.
Nevertheless, China is steadily moving forward and will be the ultimate winner of this test, and such collective confidence of winning this battle stems from the actual strengths and fundamentals of Chinese society.
‘Decision must be made’
When some economic advisers of US President Donald Trump highlighted the importance of resuming business in some states on Sunday, as part of the White House’s major push to reopen the US economy, countries across Europe are easing their lockdowns after about two months of travel restrictions and a halt in commercial activities. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Britons to get back to work as he released a three-step roadmap to recovery from the coronavirus, according to a speech aired on Sunday. And France has taken its first steps out of confinement measures. Starting on May 11, shops in the country will reopen and people would be allowed out of their homes, media reported.
However, countries are reemerging from the COVID-19 cautiously as the pandemic continues to ravage communities, and the rate of infection remains far too high for the wider opening of facilities like schools. Germany and South Korea, among some countries, are facing resurgence in infection cases, raising concerns over whether reopening society would trigger a potential second or third wave of the outbreak before a vaccine is available.
“The curves of infections in some European countries are downward, and reopening their economies is the key issue for countries across the world, as the world is likely to experience multiple waves of outbreaks in the coming months,” Chen Xi, an assistant professor of public health at Yale University, told the Global Times on Monday, May 11.
When infection cases do not stand at peak points and the situation improves, policymakers could come up with more measures to support the revival of economic activities, Chen said, noting that when they relax restrictions, the infection rates might go up.
“Those measures should be flexible enough to be timely adjusted,” he added.
Though some analysts said it is not the right time for Western countries to lift restrictions, especially if they follow China’s work resumption criteria – the strictest one in the world – they are not even close to being ready for safely lifting the lockdowns. The policies of resuming production in order to save economies is a decision that officials in Europe and the US have to make, either for their own political careers or for upcoming elections, a vivid example of how politics in the West serves interests of a few elites, not well-being of the general public.
In comparison, the Chinese government has to make sure to fulfill those two tasks – prevent infection and resume work – “which would be more challenging,” Wang Yiwei, director of the Center for European Union studies at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday.
“While the recovery is gaining pace, China is likely to be the only country in the world to see positive growth this year. Europe and the US are rushing to reopen their societies to mitigate economic costs – a decisive factor for capitalism – as governments serve vested interest groups, not the people,” Wang said.
Faced with a record 20.5 million lost jobs in April — the largest single month of job losses since the government began tracking the data in 1939 – according to CNN, US President Trump is expected to be more eager to work on economic issues rather than health matters with the November election looming. And the president’s economic team prevailed with a simple message: Reopen the country as soon as possible, as the report said.
However, the poor performance of some Western countries in fighting the pandemic has largely increased the risks of a resurgence of the outbreak, and such rash and reckless policies could make the anti-virus battle a protracted one, and those ambivalent policies are also heavily weighing on the global recovery, posing a severe threat to the resumption of trade activities and people-to-people exchanges, analysts said.
“The result of blindly reopening society and resuming economic activity for political reasons would be unimaginable as it would not only lead to an infection resurgence but also directly drag down the global fight against the epidemic,” Diao Daming, an associate professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday.
Some analysts also noted that the irresponsible decision of some Western countries could hurt China in the post-pandemic recovery.
The IMF predicted in a report published in April that the COVID-19 outbreak in most countries will peak in the second quarter and then subside in the second half of the year, according to media reports. It also expects global growth in 2021 to rebound based on that assumption. But the recession could go deeper and last longer for lack of global coordination.
Winning the competition
While more countries and regions join the ranks of those resuming work and production, some analysts see it as a subtle competition to explore the restart of the economy. The US and China are also believed to be two countries affected most by this process. One is recording the highest infection numbers and deaths, while the other is carefully striking a balance between reopening its economy and fending off risks of a second wave, in addition to an extra task: The mad and absurd blame game that Washington has launched to undermine Beijing.
Wuhan, the capital city in Central China’s Hubei Province and the first to report a COVID-19 case in the country, reported six new infection cases from Saturday to Sunday, ending the record that the province had no new cases reported for 35 consecutive days. And the National Health Commission (NHC) also said on Monday that in the past 14 days, seven provinces and regions reported new domestically transmitted cases, raising the risk of domestic clusters infection.
Authorities have been urged to identify the sources of infection and transmission paths, properly track, conduct isolation treatment and medical observation, and cut off the transmission chains, Mi Feng, the spokesperson of NHC said, which are all part of rigorous prevention and control measures China has been undertaking during the process of reopening society.
The battle has been a major test of the national governance system and capacity and the Chinese society has been facing unprecedented challenges, and has been urged to remain on high alert while further accelerating work resumption in the coming months, according to the timeline.
More efforts are being made to create synergies in helping enterprises regain growth momentum while coming up with more favorable policies, as GDP growth in the first quarter of 2020 fell 6.8 percent, casting a shadow on overall global recovery. While most people have resumed work in China, life has not been the same as the overall recovery remains sluggish. The services sector has recovered rather slowly in April despite the lift of the lockdown, official data showed.
“This is our new normal,” Wang said, noting that the country has to win this competition to reopen society while preventing the recurrence of coronavirus cases.