Lessons From China

In the ninth month of a crazy year, I thought this would be a good time to look back at the lessons we can learn from observing the Chinese economy and U.S.–China relations. In this issue of Sinology, I will focus on the takeaways from five topics: China's approach to controlling COVID-19; China's strong post-COVID economic recovery; the risks that the nature of that recovery will exacerbate China's inequality problems; Washington's misguided approach towards China, and the potential impact on innovation in America; and the mistakes Beijing is making as it tries to play a bigger role on the global stage.

Lesson 1: Taking COVID seriously saves lives

As I've written many times this year, keeping the coronavirus under control is key to any country's economic recovery. In China, there are reasons to be optimistic. In the U.S. and many other major markets, well, not so much.

As of September 14, China had not reported a single, locally transmitted COVID case in 30 days. On September 14, there were only 142 COVID patients in Chinese hospitals, down from 655 one month earlier, and from 58,016 on the February 17 peak.

Since the pandemic began, the U.S., which has approximately 4% of the world's population, has recorded 21% of the world's COVID deaths. China, home to approximately 18% of the world's population, has recorded 0.5% of COVID deaths.

Recently, the COVID picture in the U.S. has improved, but seems to have plateaued at an unacceptably high level. In the first 12 days of September, there was a daily average of 868 COVID deaths in the U.S., or 3 deaths per 100,000 population during that period of time. (By comparison, during the month of August, the average daily number of COVID deaths was 986.) Since the pandemic began, the U.S. has recorded 59 deaths per 100,000 population.

To be sure, some of the methods used by the Chinese government to successfully combat COVID would be difficult to deploy in a democracy. My colleague Julia Zhu has written an excellent piece about her recent experience with quarantine when returning to China to visit her parents.

But other democracies have had greater success than the U.S. in controlling COVID. Canada, for example, has recorded 0.1 deaths per 100,000 population during the first 12 days of September, and 24 deaths per 100,000 population since the pandemic began.