It’s sobering to see multiple examples every day in the press that those in the West who fancy themselves as in charge have lost their minds, drunk on arrogance and provincialism. Today’s example is a new story in the Financial Times that berates China (although as you will see “berates” is too mild a word) for daring to stick to its zero Covid policy. Worse, the pink paper depicts China’s policy as “propaganda” as opposed to “policy”.
You can see I am not making this up:
It’s painful to have to make obvious points: since when does the UK have a vote on how China conducts its internal affairs? And the health of its citizens is an internal affair. The fact that all sorts of Western companies located manufacturing operations their or contract for essential components or inputs was a business decision. In the early 2000s, I though it was crazy for any non-Chinese company to invest in China due to the risk of expropriation (which actually has happened quite a lot, just not in the way I envisaged, via intellectual property theft). So for US and European companies and their media lackeys go into a meltdown over their excessive commercial exposure to a country that does not prioritize profit the way they do is rich.
Now it would be one thing if the Financial Times has a factual anchor, say that the number of infections in Shanghai made it pretty much mathematically impossible, to get Covid back down to a really low level, and hence Chinese officials were fighting a clearly losing battle. In fact, the one bit of hard information the article contained potentially showed the reverse, that the Shanghai lockdowns were starting to tamp down on the infection trajectory:
And it mentions that new infections on Wednesday, 27,719, were only slightly higher than the Tuesday count of 26,330
The article itself is largely a flabby whinge with anecdata about how the lockdowns are too costly:
On Thursday, China’s official Xinhua news agency published an article warning that the country’s medical system risked “breaking down” in the event of a mass Covid outbreak. It echoed President Xi Jinping’s comments on Wednesday calling for citizens to “overcome complacency” in “response to the virus’s mutation”….
Beijing’s decision to enhance its lockdown measures to fight the spread of the highly infectious but milder Omicron variant stands in marked contrast to most of the rest of the world, which is learning to live with the virus.
Ah, but what about the subhead, “Healthcare official says Beijing’s coronavirus prevention policy is ‘not viable’”? That “healthcare official” is a single unnamed nobody:
One official close to China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention expressed concern about tightening controls on the healthcare system.
The official, who did not want to be named, said: “From a medical standpoint, I don’t think the zero-Covid policy is viable any more. Shanghai is running out of medical professionals to measure test results and beds to accommodate patients.
“If we don’t want to live with Covid, the only solution is to become stricter.”
“Official close to” the Chinese CDC is not in the CDC. There’s no reason to think this person has any statistical, science, or medical expertise. My bet is it’s something like an unhappy liaison in one of the local governments.
And the problem with Shanghai staffing is being addressed, so saying there aren’t enough medical personnel in Shanghai to cope with the infection peak is true but incomplete. It was reported last week that China was sending 10,000 medical professionals plus 2000 military medics to assist in Shanghai. So not even mentioning the increase in manpower is dishonest.
The economic commentary is merely indicative. Bo Zhuang, who works in Singapore-based for Loomis Sayles, complains that China will suffer because its economy “relies on supply chains” but cites only how EV makers, most notably Tesla have suspended operations. Note “suspended,” not closed shop. The authors mention that “Dozens of electronic components manufacturers in Kunshan” also stopped production on Wednesday. How big are they? How many do they employ? We have no idea if this is at all noteworthy.
The story closes by mentioning obstacles to getting food and medications at the start of the lockdowns, but then has to concede that they seem to be getting better, and warned of stockpiling around the country due to lockdown fears.
More pink paper readers than I expected weren’t buying it. For instance:
Well you can’t propaganda your way out of ineffective vaccines, so you have to propaganda your way through things like lockdowns and economic hardship.
Out of office
FT – Pls qualify your accusations of it being “propaganda”. It’s quite a serious accusation yet thrown around quite casually these days. Is that simply any government message that you as a publication don’t agree with? Objectively, China has done quite superbly compared to other countries in terms of overall death toll and its approach deserves some serious study by the west. While you may disagree with its approach, explain why instead of quite simplistically calling it “propaganda”.
And a few days ago, our esteemed commentariat drilled into contributing factors that the Financial Times skipped over, that Shanghai views itself as better than the rest of China, and due to that and its economic heft, act as if it can make its own rules. Now that that’s backfired, the central government has been asserting more control. For example, from PlutoniumKun:
Shanghai has always historically been ‘different’ from the rest of China. It was always less ‘Chinese’ and more outward looking, with a very distinctive culture and language, even before it was forcefully Westernised. Even working class Shangainese always tended to look down on the rubes from the rest of the country. After the Revolution Beijing looked and Shanghai with deep suspicion and kept the city on a tight leash. Shanghai was the last city permitted to cut loose in the 1990’s and go for full speed development. It actually benefited from this as it was able to avoid some of the mistakes made by the first wave of Chinese tiger regions
Shanghai in the chinese popular consciousness is a cesspool of greed and hedonism. These are the most reviled of all sins in chinese morality. The chinese fought many culture wars between the cities and country side. With the cities most extremely represented by shanghai having lost every time. The ccp represents the culture of the country side and traditional chinese morality. Anyone that understands china knows that. Shanghai is not where you look to for the moral center of china but just the opposite. Ppl in china don’t worship shanghai, it is an annoying place with annoying people with a very unscrupulous reputation that they tolerate.
Scientist GM made the critically important points, that contrary to non-Chinese propaganda, Covid can be beaten, and even more important, China has done far better than the West economically with its “fewer but way way harder” lockdown approach:
COVID can be made to completely go away in most of the world within 6 months and from the whole world within 5-10 years, if the political will is there. Technically it’s not that hard.
The end game here is that a super nasty variant comes at some point and then everyone else is forced to apply the same methods as the Chinese, or will completely collapse socially.
Such an event is still very much possible, and don’t take my word for it, while there was still SAGE in the UK, their reports were talking about that as a very realistic possibility too.
And it will catch everyone who has decided to “live with it” completely unprepared because when you are drowning in a sea of COVID you are not going to notice the rain drops falling on your head from the outer bands of the hurricane that is just about to hit you.
We watched that movie with Delta and Omicron — new variants spread undetected and unimpeded when there are tens and hundreds of thousands of infections. It will happen again and again — you let one in, you let all of them in.
The Chinese are known for their long-term thinking, and they presumably understand these things very well. So why give up the winning position?
P.S. Anyone who thinks the West is successfully “living with it” is completely deluded. I work in science and have some contacts in the tech world too, and I can tell you first and second hand how “well” things are doing. R&D has ground if not to a complete halt, to a fraction of what it was. We got shut down initially in March 2020 and that actually looked like a good opportunity to clear the backlog of things that had to be finished. But then it became clear we are not going to actually solve the crisis and the downward spiral (which I predicted immediately when the decision to let it rip was first made) started.
We got back to work in the summer of 2020, and with masking and low cases in the community things were kind of somewhat normal.
But then the cataclysmic pre-vaccination winter surge of 2020-2021 came and people dispersed again, and everything was once again disrupted.
Then people were vaccinated and decided that they can take their masks off, which lasted all of a month-month a half, before the summer-2021 surge started and another disruption.
Then there was a very brief period of semi-normality in October-November 2021 after which Omicron hit, and once again the lab became deserted (and for the first time for a really good reason — a lot of people did catch it at that time, while almost nobody did during previous waves).
So basically we had a few brief periods of somewhat normal work over two years. But this isn’t McDonalds, it is research where continuity is of extreme importance, as is direct interpersonal interaction, which is how news ideas get born and developed.
The end result is that the last two years have been largely a waste, and that things have nearly completely fallen apart — collaboration networks have been disrupted, internal research group cohesion is gone (and it will be hard to rebuild — half of the people have turned over in that time, which is normal, but they have not gotten to know each other at all and the new ones have not been integrated the way these things usually happen under normal circumstances).
In stark contrast, in China they are kicking our ass now — there were several things I was working on before the pandemic hit that I could never finish because of all the disruption and that have been meanwhile put out by scientists in China. Where work has proceeded without those disruptions.
So we are rapidly falling behind and will be falling behind further and further if it continues this way.
All of this is without going into the “highly beneficial” to productivity in intellectually intensive fields effects that the brain damage from repeated COVID infections will have.
And without talking about the moral injury aspect of it — everyone is extremely demotivated and working at a fraction of their usual levels, even the ones who are under the delusion that “it’s over” (because the overall internally competitive atmosphere in which people pushed each other to do great things is gone), and it has been made abundantly clear to everyone that we are physically disposable. Yes, even we who are supposed to be the best and the brightest (don’t take this the wrong way — I am not thinking of myself as more important than people working “essential” jobs, but society does at the very least give the appearance of seeing it that way).
It’s an analogous situation in the tech world. They’re still mostly working from home there, but it is not really working out very well. I’ve had this conversation several times. People were sent home during the first lockdowns and there were a lot of projects already in motion to finish, which they did as for that sort of thing — it has been decided what will be done, what is needed after that is for people to go in their corners and do it — WFH works fine. But then the pipeline dried up, just as it did for us in pure research — because people weren’t around each other, there were no new ideas and it became difficult to organize new projects.
But yeah, we are living with it perfectly fine because on TV they are showing politicians without masks, sports arenas are full without restrictions, and people can go to restaurants. You know, the stuff that is really really really important is giving the appearance of normality, and that is all that matters, right?
In other words, GM reveals that the Financial Times shrillness and “propaganda” charge is pure projection. A pandemic is a terrible situation to have to contend with. But China is coping far better than the West is, both from a health and an economic productivity standpoint. Not only can’t we admit it, but we lack the imagination to believe that with sufficiently aggressive measures, we too could get Covid under control. But then we’d also have to admit that all the deaths and morbidity costs were the result of cowardice, greed, and laziness.