Editor's note: This is a letter from Angelo Giuliano who shares his views on the difference between China and the West in dealing with COVID-19.
I am a Swiss/Italian by nationality and have been living in China for 25 years. I was in Hong Kong during the outbreak of COVID-19 and went through the strict measures of wearing masks and social distancing there.
I believe that culture is a strong element defining how each country has been dealing with the virus. China has a culture based on community and it is an individual responsibility to join a mutual effort, while the West has a different, more individualistic approach where the government has to combine with the individual freedoms, the trade-off between loss of lives and the economy.
The mask issue is a good example. In normal times, sick people wear a mask in China, and this is done in order to protect other people. Ultimately, if everyone wears a mask, we are all protected. Meanwhile, wearing a mask in the West is seen as a measure to protect oneself against others and not seen as a group initiative.
Also, political system can play a role here. In Western liberal democracies, the elected leaders might try to take decisions to please the voters with a short-term view instead of taking harsher and unpopular measures which have long-term advantages and can save more lives.
As of today, China's economy is back on track with marginal cases of COVID-19 while the West is still struggling and trying to limit the loss of lives and economical costs in the hope of an imminent vaccine.
Westerners tend to have a sense of superiority when it comes to comparing themselves with the Chinese, and I doubt they will accept the failures of dealing with COVID-19. It will also be hard for them to accept that Russia and China will be the first to have a vaccine. Maybe here the U.S. and Europe should try to learn a bit from China and admit their mistakes and cooperate more as COVID-19 could have been fought as a global fight.
What was missing during the pandemic was real leadership. China, in its humble position, tried to give the early signals through the WHO but it was downplayed by the West, especially by Trump.
In May 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to make a coronavirus vaccine available universally. This is leadership, and maybe another opportunity for the West to learn from.
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