China expert: U.S. should model coronavirus response after Korea, Taiwan

Mar 18, 2020, 1:08 PM

China, coronavirus...

A man carries a toddler on his shoulders as both wear protective face masks walking on a street in Beijing. As the pandemic expands its reach, China and South Korea are trying to hold their hard-fought gains. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Chinese officials have recently tried to turn the blame toward the United States for the coronavirus outbreak, but as the country with the first recorded cases, China is one of the models to which other countries are looking to as it now appears to be on the path to recovery.

“It’s very much in the interest of the Chinese government to say ‘we’re back to normal, everything’s moving forward, we’ve resolved this,'” Bradley Murg, assistant professor of political science and Asian studies at Seattle Pacific University, told KIRO Nights.

From the data we have, China does appear to be moving out of the outbreak, though that does not mean its economy has recovered. The country is dealing with a “significant offshoring of production” since it’s largely export dependent, particularly in its relationship with the United States.

“And when American are confined at home, there’s not a lot of folks going out to Walmart to, basically, buy Chinese products,” Murg said. “So it’s unlikely that China is going to see a rapid return to normalcy anytime soon, despite that narrative of a return to the growing China.”

That being said, China does have a strong economy, and this is not expected to be catastrophic.

“Nobody really predicted that we’d see real recession in China, but the general view is that this is not likely to be a Chernobyl moment for China,” Murg said. “That unlike the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the foundation of China’s economy are relatively strong, so … we don’t see this, at least at this point, as something that’s seriously threatening the power of the Chinese Communist Party.”

The narrative from China focuses on strength and recovery even though stories from citizens have surfaced noting quite the opposite. Murg cited videos of Chinese citizens yelling from their apartments “this is fake” while Presdient Xi Jinping and other officials were visiting Wuhan.

In terms of how China has responded to the outbreak, Murg believes there are better models for the United States to follow in its own response.

“We’ve seen two countries, open societies, liberal democracies, that have handled this remarkably well: South Korea and Taiwan,” Murg said.

South Korea and Taiwan have maintained individual rights and openness, while getting the virus under control, he described.

“China takes a particularly heavy-handed approach … but it certainly doesn’t seem like something that would be remotely feasible in the United States,” he said. “I mean, the popular backlash alone would be enormous, but also doesn’t seem to be worth the cost when we see what Taiwan and South Korea have done and look to emulate that model more successfully.”

The successful measures included expanded testing capacity, as well as previously established habits. In South Korea, Murg said norms and habits were created with H1N1 outbreak four or five years ago that have either carried over or been renewed during the coronavirus outbreak.

“[Folks] basically take responsibility on themselves,” he said. “They know that this is something they have to do. And, obviously, strong sort of societal informal pressure to follow self-isolation when necessary.”

Listen to KIRO Nights weeknights from 7 – 10 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.
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