A medical worker collects swab sample from a child at a community COVID-19 testing site in Yuhua District of Shijiazhuang, capital of north China's Hebei Province on January 10 (XINHUA)
When the COVID-19 pandemic became a global public health problem, we saw numerous analyses written by experts from different countries and fields of knowledge projecting scenarios about what the post-pandemic world would be like. Some were betting on the emergence of a more supportive world that is more aware of the importance of preserving the environment and sustainable development, and is capable of reducing the risks of new epidemic outbreaks. Others, in turn, maintain that the current pandemic has further fueled selfishness and individualism in society by exposing situations of total contempt for the lives of others. In dealing with a dramatic public health situation, the pandemic was a test for many countries to test the quality and efficiency of their governance models and the values that structure their societies.
It is too presumptuous to say what the post-pandemic world will really look like, but we can already say that we have answers about how each country handled a global pandemic. The changes will not come from (or with) a virus, but from the actions of societies and their governments in response to it. In some countries, governments and their people were able to enhance the value of the collectivity for the protection of each individual, while other countries failed in that respect. In the latter, the number of deaths and people infected by COVID-19 was much higher. What do these facts tell us? They tell us that, before science and scientists can immunize us against the virus with the vaccine, the values of a society can be both a reinforcement of protection against the accelerated spread of the virus and its opposite if there is no sense of community, accelerating the contagion and increasing the number of deaths.
The New Year's speech delivered by Chinese President Xi Jinping to welcome the arrival of 2021 highlighted what was and has been the choice made by China. In the words of Xi, China witnessed "the heroic spirit of marching straight to the frontlines, holding posts with tenacity, taking responsibility to get through thick and thin, sacrifices with bravery, and touching moments of helping each other," which involved "medical workers to the people's army, from scientific researchers to community workers." The country faced the pandemic "with the notion of the supremacy of the people and of life." These words could be considered as obvious in the mouth of any head of state. But that was not what was heard from the leaders of certain great nations in the West. What is the lesson to be learned from this? Worldviews have consequences on people's lives and, depending on the economic weight of the country in question, on stability and world peace.
It cannot be denied that, in managing the pandemic crisis, China – including its ruling party the Communist Party of China (CPC), government, and people – was very successful and saved many lives. And with the same approach the Chinese government has also helped other countries that faced the first COVID-19 outbreaks. As Xi Jinping said in the same New Year's speech, “After a year of hardship, we can understand more than ever the significance of a community with a shared future for mankind.” Yes, the pandemic turned out to be the occasion for China to show the world the most concrete meaning of this concept when, for example, they donated tons of medical equipment to more than a hundred countries. Unlike the notion of “globalization” spread by Western countries in the late twentieth century which placed an emphasis on commodities, the concept of “Community with a shared future for mankind” places an emphasis on people in a collective life. This concept is consistent with the notion of “people-centered development” that is embodied in the CPC Central Committee's proposals for the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035. And this is not all: it has resulted in a public policy that has eradicated extreme poverty in Chinese territory.
China has shown that a community committed to social harmony is more vigorous for promoting economic and social development and also more effective in dealing with a health crisis, than selfish individualism-featured some Western countries increasingly engulfed in the traps of internal social disharmony.
Evandro Menezes de Carvalho is the executive editor-in-chief of the Brazilian edition of China Today, and a professor of international law and coordinator of the Brazil-China Studies Center at Fundacao Getulio Vargas Law School in Rio de Janeiro.