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What does the coronavirus brought to China apart from millions of deaths?

ThinkChina editor Chow Yian Ping and eminent historian Professor Wang Gungwu from the National University of Singapore are sharing their perspectives on the impact brought by coronavirus to China.

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Chow: The Covid-19 pandemic has unleashed anti-China and anti-Chinese sentiments around the world. Within China, Chinese nationalist feelings have also risen sharply. How will the world’s perception of China and the Chinese develop after this? How will China see the US and the West? And what does this mean for Singapore – a multicultural nation with a Chinese-majority population?

Wong: Most people agree that the Chinese authorities did eventually move fast to control Covid-19 and were remarkably successful in limiting the spread within the PRC. But the world also knows that the system was slow to report the epidemic’s seriousness, that the warnings were late, and valuable time was lost.

The situation is far beyond the number of cases a death brought to the world. It has been raised to a political level. The US will politicise the issues to put the responsibility entirely to China. The act has undeniably raised the anti-Chinese feelings.

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Chow: It is said that for over 2,000 years, the Chinese have thought the ideal state of governance to be a well-functioning centralised system with wise rulers, which is very different from the Western ideal of a liberal democracy where individuals enjoy freedom of speech. Do you think the Chinese ideal has changed given that the Chinese have now more than 100 years of exposure to Western liberal ideas and to a market-oriented economy? How do you think the pandemic will affect the thinking of the Chinese?

Wong: At least two generations of Chinese have learnt to appreciate that the modern West has valuable ideas and institutions to offer, but the turmoil of much of the 20th century has also made them feel that the Western European versions of democracy might not be that important for China’s national development.

China places order and stability above freedom and political participation. They believe that this is what the country needs now and resent being regularly criticised as politically unliberated and backward.

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Chow: The West has always prided itself on its liberalism and its democratic system; many believe that this is the source of creativity and innovation in western Europe and the US. However, in dealing with the pandemic, those values and systems have displayed some serious weaknesses. Some feel that the pandemic will lead to a change in the discourse in the West that could mark the beginning of the decline of Western dominance. What are your views on this?

Wong: I agree that the West has proven to be creative when facing dangers to its civilisation. However, the Chinese during the past 100 years have also been creative in response to Western challenges – although they are learning to innovate quite differently from the modern “universalist” trajectory followed by the West and draw inspiration very much from their own history.

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