China’s lockdown discredits ideology

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China’s lockdown discredits ideology

Yeh Young-june
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

I was recently contacted by a Korean person who lives in Shanghai. He moved to China, and has lived half his life there, after being mesmerized by the country and its people. But lately he has come to have doubts about his life there and the nation as a whole. The lockdown of Shanghai has stretched to two months. The severity of the lockout can be underscored by the data — zero traffic accidents and zero divorce cases — in the city of 25 million population over the last two months.

His family cut three meals to two a day since the lockdown. Otherwise, they could not have survived on the food they had stocked. Psychological stress was more painful to endure than hunger, he said. Civilians have been ordered not to step out of the apartment doors. Barricades surrounded apartment complexes and police guarded the entries and exits. The messages he had sent from social media were like the ones coming from prison cell. He was turning into a reclusive brooder.

If such a horrendous lockdown was executed in South Korea, a public riot would have been inevitable. But the lockdown has been imposed in a metropolis like Shanghai. The Chinese would have been equally disgruntled, but they are prohibited from expressing their feelings in group actions. They can only post video satires on social media. They say that the entire city has turned into a massive zoo. Any posting of direct critical remarks on the government would be instantly removed. Artificial intelligence keeps watch over the internet and mobile platforms around the clock. In “1984,” the dystopian novel published in 1949 by English author George Orwell, has become the reality in China.
Deliverymen wearing protective suits carry bags of food at the gate of a residential community in Shanghai, China, April 11. [AP/YONHAP] 

The cumulative Covid-19 infection rate in China is a mere 0.17 percent, whereas the ratio in most democracies exceeds 20 percent — 54 percent for Denmark, 45 percent for France, 31 percent for Germany and 25 percent for the United States. Korea’s infection rate is 35 percent. From the sheer number, China has succeeded in the “zero Covid-19” policy.

But the data has come at the expense of freedom of the 1.3 billion people. In any country, a battle with infectious diseases victimizes and restrains individual freedom to some extent. A country using state power to forcibly restrict civilian freedom to contain the virus spread cannot set a role model. Only Pyongyang benchmarks Beijing since the virus outbreak in North Korea.

The Covid-19 pandemic and a global struggle over the past two years coincided with the U.S.-China contest. The tit-for-tat tariff conflict between the two spilled over to international politics beyond the economic frontier. Whether we like it or not, the contest between the two superpowers has become a global conflict between differing ideological regimes. U.S. President Joe Biden held a special teleconference summit with the Asean from the White House and visited Korea and Japan, timed with the launch of the much touted Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. China sent Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Pacific Island states to forge coveted security pacts. The Sino-U.S. ideological battle is spreading around the globe.

Their confrontation on international political scenes leads up to competition over values and ideology. The so-called Chinese model was once praised as an alternative development model against the western Democracies mired in political battles and populism. But the phenomenon has fizzled out. The world has realized that the values and ideology Beijing upholds cannot harmonize with the free democracy systems. The two-month-long Shanghai lockdown has proved it.
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