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Only a China solution can combat coronavirus

By Laurence Brahm | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-02-18 09:31
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Not to long ago, I wrote a column for China Daily, "China Shall Overcome," observing that the Chinese people and nation have overcome one crisis after another in the past, and have the wherewithal and determination to do this again facing the coronavirus crisis. I wrote this column, even while the infections in Hubei province were climbing. Why?

I have both observed and participated in many of the reforms and policies of China to overcome challenges over the four decades living here. I have seen a consistent pattern of unity and cooperation among the Chinese people, and meticulous coordination of government policies when faced with a crisis or challenge. Experience has shown me, time and again, when a crisis occurs, China's leadership faces it with a rational clear-headedness. Something seems to kick into the subconscious of both people and they work together in synergy with the organizational institutions of government to overcome these moments of crisis.

This pattern has been reoccurring throughout my life living in China and I believe that it is an innate aspect of the Chinese collective unconscious that has roots in Confucian tradition. Philosophical influences that are both Taoist and Buddhist embedded in the national cultural psyche allow for adept flexibility in response to crisis and a vision of positive hope when faced with negative adversity. This ability to see positive through negative and to use that perception to turn even the most difficult situations into advantages is a deeply rooted part of Chinese culture and the collective unconscious of the Chinese people.

At times of prosperity, when things are going well, everybody is out there doing their own thing. But in those moments of crisis everybody comes together. This is unique to the Chinese culture that allows them to respond and work together. This is what we see happening during this incredible coronavirus crisis. Where on earth could you have 100 million plus people stay at home and self-quarantine as part of a coordinated government policy? This represents a collective response to an unprecedented epidemic. There are very few places in the world where everyone can come together in a patient collective force. This is unique to China and its people.

China has cordoned and locked down Hubei province. This is an act of responsibility not only to its own people, but to the global community as well. We are all aware now of the deathly potency of this coronavirus and the unexplainable occurrence of its rapid airborne spread. The ability to lock down and isolate is the first step to be able to contain any virus. But if you imagine the scale of what is happening in Hubei province to prevent this from affecting other parts of China and the world as a whole, it is incredible. This is a true act of global humanitarian responsibility. Even at China's own economic and social costs.

When you talk about humanitarianism this is an act in the global interest. This ability of the Chinese culture, social fabric of its people and the organizational capability of the institutions that have been established in the country are what allow China to respond quickly, decisively and collectively to a crisis of unbelievable and unforeseeable proportion.

Under such circumstances where the threat of this coronavirus is a threat to anybody, we can see everybody is collectively and patiently staying at home. Self-isolation and working at home remotely, working around the dangers in order to meet this challenge. I don't think one would see this response in any of the Western countries whose politicians and mainstream media are so quick to criticize China for everything it does. This is a distinctive, collective response among people to work and bond together in order to get through this crisis together.

One of the reasons why China is able to respond so effectively is the system of macro-management that evolved to address economic reform but is now being used to address a health and humanitarian crisis. Throughout the 1980s to 1990s, a system evolved of state guidance of the economy, together with checks and balances to prevent economic crisis, and the ability to tighten and loosen valves to allow the market to function in free flow, or to use administrative means to guide the market toward more stable conditions to prevent volatility. This is in the interest of everyone collectively rather than the self-interest of a few.

Of course this coronavirus is having an impact on China's economy. Shops are closed, movement of goods restricted. This will have implications throughout the entire chain of production, transport and supplies not only in China but globally.

It's interesting to observe that despite the slowdown in China that the USA stock market has continued rocketing to the highest levels historically. This is very strange at a time when the fundamentals of that economy are not good, and social divisions also at their greatest. It calls for even more questioning given the chain of product supplies in the USA coming from China. Even the high-tech service companies that dominate accumulated capital market wealth are totally dependent upon China's supply chain for their product parts.

So why is the market so high?

We could see this as a projection of a perception of economic decoupling or fragmentation of the globalization system that has existed. We see America's isolationist policies causing alienation of other nations such as China. So it is foreseeable that we could see more collaborative arrangements in Asia, not only in economic policy and business, but also in combatting disease and crisis. This may be just a natural evolution of the times we live in now.

Once we get though this stage of containment and control of the coronavirus and its spread, then China will enter a new stage of its own economic growth, a reboot period. The same types of reforms applied to business and enterprise and economy now need to be applied to the healthcare sector. These are areas that now offer opportunity for more state investment and private investment and there will be a new growth era with breakthroughs.

In science, technology and AI for healthcare. I believe these are areas where China will lead in bringing together other countries of the region, such as India, where there are similar challenges with population concentrations, water and food security, and healthcare. We could see a new regional growth and economic revitalization. It is a question of using negative to create positive. That is core to Chinese philosophy and culture.

Laurence Brahm is a senior international fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, founding director of the Himalayan Consensus and co-chair of the Silk-Spice Road Dialogues.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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