Monday, June 17, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: Does the West need foreign aid?

East Asia watches in astonishment as Europe fails to tame the virus

Update : 06 Oct 2020, 11:00 PM

Shall we ignore the US for once? Things have gotten so bad there that Bangladeshi NGOs and civil servants could plausibly offer their expertise in installing a caretaker government in Washington and monitoring elections next month.

As for Covid, well let’s not even go there. No, the West here refers to Western Europe, as in Far West Eurasia.

East Asia has already been flying out medical aid to the rich countries of the Global North. Three out of eight vaccines most likely to come to market are from China. The Chinese president was the first to call for the global distribution of vaccines as a public good, meaning they should be provided at cost and not for profit. East Asia is winning a moral, economic, and ideological victory. For a decade or more, the story had been about economic growth, the lifting of hundreds of millions out of poverty, and technological ambitions. Will the response to Covid-19 enhance the narrative?

When Wuhan shut down this winter to freeze out the virus, the Smart Money was betting that the China Machine would splutter and break down. Wuhan is the heart of the country’s industrial network, connecting the nodes of production. A perfect place to ensure the diffusion of microbes in all directions via trucks, cars, vessels, and planes. The citizens of Wuhan came back from the dead. Currently, China is on the move celebrating the victory of its Revolution in 1949. Neighbours such as a rich South Korea and poor Vietnam have been just as successful. They now look in horror at the Far West of Eurasia and wonder if what they see on TV is fiction or a dark comedy.

What’s voting got to do with it?

Locked down Europeans, from the Libertarian Hard Right to left wing progressives, are not impressed. Many remark that Europe has its liberties, unlike Asia. They rule out China and Vietnam for the lack of elections. How about Japan and South Korea with a combined population the equivalent of France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands together?

Seoul conducted free and fair elections earlier this year in the middle of the pandemic. Japan is just as democratic as any of these Western European states. Neither perfect nor inferior. The jibe that Asia is authoritarian is an oft-repeated one. Taking that at face value, the question remains: How is it that South Korea and Japan have managed this virus so much more intelligently than Europe? Their economies are not on the floor.

Elections and democracy clearly have little to do with it. Communist China and Vietnam, with a billion and a half people, have arguably been even more impressive given that China is still a middle-income country and Vietnam even several levels lower.

Broadening the footprint to the rest of Asia, we see that the majority of Southeast Asia and South Asia are more often ruled by governments elected by popular franchise. Regrettably, the jury is still out on their performance regarding the virus.

Freedom = confinement

Beyond the route to office, isn’t it more about management, administration, coordination, teamwork? The building blocks of “good governance.”

Critically, it involves working with the people to get buy-in, leading to social mobilization on an epic scale.

Europeans seem generally resigned, sullen, and rightfully distrustful of their politicians. They cherish the hard won liberties of democracy but despair at the current generation of politicians.

While European progressives tout their freedoms, they have meekly fallen in line with mass confinement especially of the working classes. The blunt use of community house arrest without the smart sophisticated test and trace systems in use in South Korea, for example. What East Asia was doing last winter, Western Europe is barely getting going this winter.

Mask-wearing is still in question. Tracing is haphazard. Arguably, draconian actions are today more in evidence in Western democracies than their Eastern Asian equivalents.

A health road from East to West?

If Western mainstream media were doing its job properly, they would offer daily, continuous coverage of the streets of Seoul, Tokyo, and, yes, Shanghai. They would demand to know why Europeans could not have targeted their outbreaks earlier, utilized technology like East Asia, and mobilized its citizens as one. Heads would then roll.

Perhaps they could ask that East Asia sent technical assistance on a new side to the Silk Road. On a health road that runs from the western Pacific to the eastern Atlantic?

Farid Erkizia Bakht is a political analyst

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