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HK edition / 2020-04 / 01 / Page009

It is now time to re-evaluate Western political systems

HK EDITION | Updated: 2020-04-01 08:48

The New York Times recently claimed that China's travel and quarantine restrictions imposed in the battle against the novel coronavirus came at "a great cost to civil liberties". Soon after it made such a claim, it praised Italy for enforcing a similar clampdown that would safeguard Europe against the pandemic. Such contradictory statements neatly expose some Westerners' deep-rooted prejudice against Chinese socialism as well as their blind faith in the West's political systems.

In contrast, French President Emmanuel Macron is one of the few Western statesmen who is confronting reality. He publicly acknowledged that political systems in the West call for introspection.

At the 56th Munich Security Conference in February, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boasted that "Free nations are simply more successful than any other model that's been tried in the history of civilization." Contrasting with Pompeo's remark, Macron admitted that "There is indeed a weakening of the West.

"We thought 15 years ago that our values were universal, that we were going to dominate the world durably, that we were prevailing on the technological level, military level, etc.," said Macron. "And when I look at us, on a 10-15 years horizon, we will be more and more challenged by other projects, other values." He specifically mentioned China and Russia in this respect.

Recently, France has also been hard-hit by the coronavirus. In a televised speech to the country on March 12, Macron stated that the universal healthcare system in France, which benefits all French citizens regardless of their income, experience and occupation, is far from a heavy price or burden; instead, it is a precious asset and fundamental advantage when disasters strike. He made it clear that it was precisely the current global pandemic that explained the need to exempt certain products and services from the market rule. He also added that there was a need to scrutinize the flaws of democratic systems.

As we all know, free-market and democratic institutions are two major components of Western social systems. We only hope that politicians, social elites and mainstream media in the West do not ignore the flaws of their social systems while pompously criticizing China's social system.

In the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, China's social system has demonstrated its advantages in effectively mobilizing resources to achieve a common objective with remarkable results in the quickest manner. Even those Hong Kong people who have long been under the influence of Western ideology and who admire the social systems in the West have begun to see this advantage.

Recently, a local newspaper published an article written by a Hong Kong resident living in the United Kingdom. The author criticizes the Conservative Party for reducing spending on public healthcare over the years. Currently, the UK is beset with financially collapsed police stations, fire stations and libraries.

Since 2010, 60 hospitals have been forced to shut down or downgrade. The media reported that some public hospital nurses had to go to food banks after losing their jobs. Nonetheless, the Tories, who constantly advocate austerity measures, had a landslide victory in the UK general election last year. Against this backdrop, it is not hard to understand why the incumbent government headed by Boris Johnson initially took a kind of "survival of the fittest" approach in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea of "herd immunity" was quickly put aside after many scientists denounced it as inhumane or impractical. The initial approach highlights the reality: It is difficult for the underresourced British National Health Service (NHS) to cope with the new pandemic. The author also pungently points out that many people consider neoliberalism, which treats even traditional civil rights like education, medical care, etc., as tradable goods, as an enhanced version of capitalism. The British government's shift from a passive approach to a proactive approach in dealing with the pandemic is the result of a disaster that has prompted the authorities to take measures considered to be impossible previously. The UK, under the right-wing Conservative Party, surprisingly has resorted to a "leftist" approach: The government is subsidizing up to 80 percent of employees' salaries to prevent job losses; landlords cannot terminate leases during the outbreak; if a tenant experiences financial difficulty, the landlord is allowed to delay mortgage payments; and the option of allowing tenants to take a break from their rent obligations is also being explored. Implementing such measures that go against the "big market, small government" principle was unimaginable two weeks ago. To date, this kind of pervasive interventionism has become a no-brainer.

Although a few other countries in the West have also adopted "socialist" anti-pandemic measures, I do not believe these policies will be incorporated into their capitalist systems when the pandemic is over. Pluralism is what the world embraces; the Western model should not be considered universal.

As Hong Kong inherited the pre-1997 system established by the British, many people in the SAR idolize the free market and Western political systems. After seeing the differences in anti-epidemic effectiveness between the two distinct types of political systems, they should now think twice about their preference.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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