‘U.S. Chernobyl’: Why the U.S. failed and China won against COVID-19

July 24, 2020
By Lee Siu Hin  李小轩

This slightly edited talk was given at the July 16 Workers World Party webinar, “Why We Defend China.” The webinar can be viewed at tinyurl.com/yxbbpwwy/.

Lee Siu Hin

What’s going on?

In January 2020, several cases of viral pneumonia of unknown origin were detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. No one knew exactly what the virus was, hence the vague identifier of “coronavirus” so popularly known today. Thousands of miles away in the U.S., when the virus was believed not to have reached its soil yet, right-wing U.S. elites, media, and politicians began using cruel words and ridicule against China, calling the virus “China’s Chernobyl”. U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, famous for his anti-China rhetoric, along with the right-wing media and the “liberal”Washington Post, began spreading the “Wuhan military lab-made virus” conspiracy theory.

I was in China at the time.  As a Chinese-American community activist, I had been working and traveling between China and the U.S. for a bi-national solidarity activism project and working in the medical field.  Due to the increased U.S. cold-war hostilities against China, we organized a 21-person U.K/U.S. activist delegation to China last December 2019 to January 2020.  We traveled from Beijing along the Silk Road to Urumqi, China, the capital of Xingjian Uyghur Autonomous Region. Our main purpose was a fact-finding tour to fight U.S.-Western propaganda against China regarding Xingjian. We met many people and talked to Muslims and Uyghurs about the true situation.

It was right after the New Year 2020, on the tour bus to Dunhuang, China, when we heard the breaking story of the U.S. assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, and the small but developing news about a mysterious virus that broke out in Wuhan, China. By the time we returned to Beijing at the end of the tour on January 7th 2020, the situation in Wuhan seemed to be getting serious, with more and more local news coverage and public health warnings.

I stayed in China until January 20, 2020, and flew back to the U.S. 3 days before the Chinese government ordered Wuhan’s lockdown and tens of thousands of medical workers were sent to the city.  It became the biggest medical emergency mission in human history. Based on my medical experience, I knew it could develop into a health crisis, but no could expect a pandemic to emerge and become a major global crisis that would deeply affect each and every country. This was a turning point in history that occurred over the course of just a few weeks.

It seemed with every passing day less was known about the pandemic yet China beat the odds by completely containing the virus within 3 months.  When the Wuhan lockdown officially ended on April 8, 2020, it marked the official end of the COVID-19 crisis in China. But no one could predict that the pandemic would spread rapidly to Europe or that the U.S. would become the COVID-19 epicenter of the world with nearly a quarter of call global cases and deaths.

Again, we need to ask: what’s going on?

The success of China’s struggle against the virus and the U.S.’ failure, demonstrates the success of China’s socialist system, and the failure and dysfunction of the U.S. capitalist system. It also shows that the arrogance of the U.S. from left to right, due to the ceaseless anti-communist cold war against China, meant that the U.S. could not put aside differences and learn from China’s successful experience. This arrogance sent the U.S. into an abyss of corona disaster of hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 deaths, millions of cases, and trillions worth of economic losses with no end in sight.

The first reported case in Wuhan came at the height of China-U.S. tensions. There was a U.S.-instigated trade war and a U.S./Western-backed color-revolution in Hong Kong, China. The U.S. was routinely sending the naval carriers and war planes to the South China Sea. The U.S. mobilized its entire state machine against Huawei, China’s bourgeoning telecom company. The U.S. Congress passed the so-called “Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019” on December 3rd 2019 in a blatant example of interference in China’s Xingjian region.

Most of these U.S China-bashing campaigns have failed.  The U.S. was forced to sign the trade accord with China to ease the trade war. Huawei didn’t fall. Hong Kong police are now under new leadership that has cracked down and arrested thousands of neo-Nazi Hong Kong pro-independent rioters in mid-December 2020. Additionally, no uprising occurred in Xingjian after U.S. political pressure. The D.C. elite certainly felt humiliated and defeated by China. Now they are furious.

Just like a money-losing gambler in desperate need of making a comeback, the coronavirus was the perfect bet for turning the table. Sinisterly calling it “China’s Chernobyl,” U.S. anti-communist war-monger imperialists painted a sick fantasy that mirrored the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.  They made accusations that China covered-up the problem. They hoped that China would have poor medical supports causing massive deaths—which would then lead to the country’s economic collapse causing condemnation and isolation from the international community. This in turn would lead to mass anger and uprising, and finally to the collapse and overthrow of Communist China.

Ironically, China successively mobilized the masses to beat the virus quickly and effectively while the U.S. under the Trump regime led the country into total disaster. The US not only became the hardest hit country with the highest rate of infected people and the highest casualities, but the country has spiraled into economic collapse, massive unemployment, and has even been unable to provide enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers.  COVID-19 is indeed the “U.S.’s Chernobyl”.

But that’s not the lowest. ? What do you mean here? Do you mean: That’s not all?

Many U.S. corporations and the wealthy took the opportunity to profit from the crisis with Trump’s help. The elites were given disproportionately huge sums of government funds to bail out their businesses and thus made “national crisis fortunes” from the disaster.  On March 27th 2020 the President signed a two-trillion-dollar stimulus bill, the CARES Act, providing minuscule payments to taxpayers while providing trillions in big business bailouts.

Stimulus funds for working people and small business such as the direct payments of $1,200 to most individuals who made up to $75,000, or $2,400 for couples making up to $150,000 and the expanded unemployment benefits that boosted the maximum benefit by $600 per week. There was also a $367 billion Paycheck Protection Program – PPP loans for small businesses, and the $150 billion for state and local governments for their virus fights.  However, a much larger portion, nearly half of the bailout ($867 billion) was for corporate bailouts which included $500 billion in loans for large industries including $25 billion for passenger airlines, $4 billion for carriers, $3 billion for aviation contractors and $17 billion for “businesses critical to maintaining national security”, i.e. military contractors.

In addition, a $130 billion was earmarked for hospitals, but there is no clear indication how much of that money will be spent on treating the COVID-19 patients. In reality, many U.S. COVID patients received hundreds of thousands even million dollars medical bills after their treatment. The bailout was merely a crazy money grab-party for the richest 1% and the so-called “small” businesses, and the liberal Democrats who initially opposed the bill did so not because they’re angry about corporate welfare, but because they wanted their own companies to be added to the list. Such bipartisanship made it increasingly clear that the rich do not care whether workers or the poor live or die.

Thanks to COVID-19, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’ fortune has increased to nearly $172 billion  due to the pandemic, which has forced many people to stay at home and shop online. While Bezos profited from the virus, his overworked employees went without proper pay and a lack of protective gear which caused hundreds of Amazon warehouse workers to fall ill to the virus. Eight Amazon workers have died. Bezos is not the only one who managed to increase his fortune while the deadly virus battered the global economy. In the past six months, the collective net worth of the 500 wealthiest people in the world rose from $5.91 trillion to $5.93 trillion, according to Bloomberg.

Yet while the rich feast, workers and “guest workers” from south of the border who are working in the food packing, meat and farm industries are suffering. The greedy pursuit of profit by capitalist bosses cares nothing about the workers who produce our food. In Evansville, TN, every one of the 200 farmworkers there has tested positive for the virus. Southern New Jersey has seen hundreds of migrant farmworkers become infected with the virus. According to WHYY radio in Philadelphia, these workers are not covered by medical insurance and simply put, no one cares about them.  In fact, no one knows exactly how many have been infected or died from the virus.

It’s the same situation at poultry processing facilities.  According to CDC, between April and May 2020, 16,233 workers were infected in 239 facilities across the country, with 86 deaths.

Does the government protect them? No! According to CounterPunch, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is leaving immigrants to die in detention, and retaliating when they speak out. At ICE detention centers, conditions of confinement put people at high risk for contracting the virus. As of May 31, 2020, ICE reported testing 2,781 out of approximately 24,700 people in its custody; 1,461 tested positive out of only 61 of their more than 200 facilities. Two people have died in ICE custody from COVID-19, and a third person reportedly died of COVID-19 shortly after release from detention. According to VERA.org, the actual number is 15 times higher than what ICE has reported to date. One group of researchers even concluded that 72 percent to nearly 100 percent of detained people may eventually be infected.

The lowest-paid workers are always the losers in the United States. This is true even for  government employees. According to the latest government data on July 9, 2020, more than 1,018 out of 50,000 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees have tested positive for coronavirus and 6 have died.

Even more cruel and racist acts occurred when Trump blocked other countries from getting the much needed COVID-fighting medicines and equipment.

During a peak in COVID-19 cases, the U.S. put more sanctions against Venezuela. Trump used at least $601 million out of an estimated $24 billion looted Venezuelan public money, frozen by the U.S. government, to build the border wall between the U.S and Mexico during this COVID-19 crisis, according to The Grayzone. Trump and his rich pals don’t care about fighting the virus, they just want to rip-off as much profit as they can for their business interests.

As Chinese activist Zhang Weiwei puts it: “The difference between the Sino-US COVID-fight models is reflected in the specific guiding principles of the war against the virus. From the beginning in China, Chinese President Xi Jinping clearly put forward four requirements: strengthens confidence, work together, scientific prevention, and precise measures. I have always advocated observing the world with the eyes and standards of the Chinese. Many health experts wish to consider these four principles as four standards and see how the U.S. virus-fight has been carried out.”

The first is “false confidence.” From the beginning, the U.S. and some European countries brandished confidence; they cynically gloated that the outbreak was just a “China virus” that only affects Asians but not white people. They did not think preparation was needed, and if the virus spread to them than herd immunity would quickly dampen the impact. From Trump to Pelosi, left to right, few in the U.S. and the major European powers believed that a real virus war would be coming soon.

The second is “together in the same boat”. As soon as the outbreak in Wuhan broke out, the slogan in all parts of China was “Wuhan refueling.” All over the internet, netizens spread slogans such as support Wuhan with all your heart, support Hubei (Wuhan is the capital city of Hubei province), and the support the 42,000 medical personnel across the country working in Hubei to beat the virus.

The United States, on the contrary, has no such cultural tradition of “working together in the same boat”, nor the institutional arrangements to facilitate the principle of “working together in the same boat”. Individual states and the Federal Government have been involved in robbing masks, protective clothing, and ventilators from each other.

American politics is a “me-only” selfish identity politics, which has caused all kinds of resistance and social division during the virus crisis. Trump is not enthusiastic about supporting Democratic Party-led states, nor is the Democratic Party willing to listen to Trump’s command. Even the simple public health requirement of wearing masks was highly politicized in the U.S. Wearing masks has been labeled by the right-wing as a form of surrender to the Democratic Party and unpatriotic.

Such selfishness and ignorance lead to many idiotic actions across the U.S.; from the gun-carry anti-lockdown protests, anti-mask rage, to virus parties on college campuses: Early July 2020 a man in his 30s from San Antonio, Texas, died after going to a “COVID-19 party” to prove that the virus was a “hoax”, according to the local KENS 5-TV station.

The fundamental difference between the COVID-19 fights in China and the U.S. is this: China is fighting for the people no matter the cost, that’s the reason China was able beat the virus in a short time with low casualties and protects the economy from long-term economic ruin.

On the other hand, U.S. leadership doesn’t care about the people; it cares only about saving the capitalist financial bottom line. U.S. leadership gave up on saving people and even neglected to protect the elderly while racists blamed China for their miserable failure.

Many Chinese experts say that if U.S. and western countries acknowledged the “China standard”, they would have been far better off and the pandemic might have been contained as it is in China.

Let’s look at the numbers. By mid-July, the CDC reported daily infected cases in the U.S. of over 66,000 per day, almost the entirety of China’s 84,000 infected cases that emerged between January-April, 2020.

On July 19th 2020, U.S. COVID-19 infection had reached record-breaking 84,033, more then entire China’s coronavirus infected numbers.

According to my compiled analysis, based on July 10th, 2020, COVID-19 data:

  • The overall infection rate of China vs. U.S. (people infected/total population X 100%) is 0.0061% vs. 0.9652%, death rate China vs. U.S. (dead/total population) is 0.000333 vs. 0.040736, which means a person in the U.S. has a 158 times higher chance of becoming infected and 122 times of being killed by the virus than a person living in China.
  • If we consider a comparison based on population density (people infected/country area) it can be understood as how many chances you’ll see your neighbor infected, and seeing them die. U.S. persons have a 38 times higher chance of seeing their neighbors infected, and 29.6 times higher chance of seeing them dying from COVID-19 than a Chinese neighbor.
  • Expanding on this data, let’s compare China with other major outbreak countries (with higher infection and death counts then China), mostly western developed countries. The number is even more staggering. Compared with China on infection rate and death rate: Brazil has a 141 times higher infection rate (IR) and 101 times death rate (DR) then China; Russia 89 times the IR and 101 times the DR; U.K has 72 IR and 204 DR times higher; Spain 89 IR and 183 DR times higher; Italy 66 IR and 174 DR higher; France 51 IR and 135 DR times higher.

In other words, a person in the U.S. especially in NYC, and most people from the western capitalist first world see no end to the virus in sight and are facing far more threat, stress and horror from the virus than a Wuhan resident faced during the peak of their outbreak.

With the COVID-fight successfully won in China, second waves prevented, and a quick economic rebound, many experts predict China will emerge from the coronavirus crisis stronger than the U.S.  “The pandemic is going to reinforce that the United States is simply not the highly functional, advanced role model it used to be”, said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a traditional anti-communist/anti-China think-tank.

Many U.S. elites fear the COVID-19 pandemic may accelerate America’s declining status with their traditional allies.

So, what is the U.S. planning to do? Just like any other imperialist power in history, the U.S. desperately chooses to launch an all-out assault against China. The U.S. capitalist system can always be counted on to prepare for war, just not for fighting COVID-19. They can neither lose face nor money—and choose a dirty fight and shameful denial instead.

While the U.S. faces tremendous public health and economic crises, the COVID-19 pandemic will cost the U.S. economy trillions and the global economy $21 trillion. Yet the U.S. still considers building more bombs more important than human life.

On July 1st 2020, a whopping $740.5 billion military spending package was approved by the Democratic-controlled House Armed Services Committee and rubber-stamped by a GOP-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee . Trump, considered by some on the left and the right to be anti-interventionist, did not hesitate to sign off on the package.

At the same time, after failing to spread the “Wuhan military lab China virus” conspiracy hoax, the U.S. capitalist elite from Trump to the DNC changed their tactic, pushing  overt war threats, sanctions, and covert intelligence campaigns against China.

On the military front, on July 3rd 2020 the U.S. sent two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea for exercises even as China was holding drills nearby. This was a  pointed “gun-boat” message to China that “the U.S. doesn’t appreciate Beijing’s military ramp-up in the region.” According to a U.S. official quoted by the Wall Street Journal.

Between July 6th and  8th 2020, the U.S. sent military aircraft to conduct close-up reconnaissance operations on China’s southern coast, as close as 51.68 nautical miles from Guangdong coastal area, for three consecutive days.

Again on July 17th 2020, USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan, the two aircraft carrier battle groups, held another “dual carrier” exercise in the South China Sea; this is the second time the US military has held a “dual carrier” exercise in the South China Sea within two weeks, according to the China Global Times.

By mid-July 2020 there’d been at least five U.S. warships or spy planes identified in the South China Sea or near Chinese coastal area.

On the political front, on June 30, 2020, Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE were officially designated “national security threats” by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Huawei has been completely banned from the U.S. Meanwhile, the U.S. has succeeded in pushing the U.K. to drop Huawei from their construction of a 5G network instead of offering help to fight their COVID-19 crisis, as the Chinese had just done for months by sending medical supplies.

Furthermore, instead of working on any legislative bills to reform the police force following the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, the Senate on May 14, 2020, and the House on May 27, 2020, rushed to pass the “Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act” by a vote of 413–1. The bill was signed by Trump into law on June 17, 2020; it was written with the intention to undermine China’s sovereignty over the Xingjian region.

In addition, on July 2nd 2020, the Senate from liberal Democrats to right-wing GOPs, shamefully and unanimously passed the “Hong Kong Autonomy Act” (H.R. 7440), intended to destabilize Hong Kong, China. On July 14th 2020 Trump signed the Hong Kong Sanctions bill, ending Hong Kong’s special status. The U.S. also instituted a sweeping travel ban on Communist Party of China members.

As China Global Television Network (CGTN) reporter Liu Xin says: “The propaganda is working yet again, and it’s so great that even the most obvious of hypocrisy goes unnoticed. I realize a lot of these examples might fall on deaf ears because we don’t have enough distance from some of the stuff I’m talking about here like we already had with the Iraq war or maybe some of you are too young to remember the effects that the Iraq war propaganda had on us or maybe you still really believe you did the right thing and brought freedom and democracy to Iraq.

“This should be a time when the world  comes together, for the time being, to fight COVID-19 rather than its hegemon states looking for someone to blame for the pain of the virus. We’ve seen the consequences of convincing themselves that China is an evil enemy who covered up COVID-19. And the world will not stop looking for what China has made available for everyone to fight the virus more effectively.

“The President of the United States was elected by capitalist power with who can push the right button. As many silly people as there are silly presidents. There is no stupid but more stupid”, Liu continues. Many experts around the world have pointed out that Trump’s approach is to divert contradictions and hope that the public will shift their attention to racism from the fact that they do not have the leadership or the will to enact an effective resistance to the pandemic. In other words, just blame China.

“Ideology is the most basic way of thinking for Americans. Regardless of the level of education, from the red neck in the bar to the professor in the school, talking about China and socialism are the same arrogance and prejudice”, Liu concludes.

The U.S. and the American model has lost its grip over the narrative, making this period a moment of political, cultural and ideological reexamination.

We need to ask ourselves, from the COVID-19 fight, can the U.S. learn from China?

The U.S. speaks of human rights every day. Human rights are first and foremost the right to living. With so little effort given to protect the right to living in the U.S., it’s a shame to hear U.S. politicians and even many Americans publicly stating that they have “given up the elderly” and even believe that “in order to protect the economy, the elderly should make sacrifices and give up treatment.” The end result: tens of thousands of U.S. senior citizens in danger of being casualties within care facilities or in their own home without proper help.

We should learn from China’s successful COVID-19 experience, investigate why Chinese socialism works, and do what we can to build international health solidarity.

Furthermore; there won’t be health justice unless U.S. sanctions against Venezuela, Cuba and Iran that block health and essential supplies to them are removed; and U.S. wars on Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan that destroy vital infrastructure are terminated. Let us not forget to call for an end to the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation and blockade against Palestine that has complicated the colonized nation’s COVID-19 response.

It is no secret that domestically, police brutality and the war on terror is in fact just more oppression for Black and immigrant communities. There won’t be health justice in the U.S. unless there is a people’s revolution for fundamental social change that demands the moving of money and wealth from the richest 1% and the military back to the working class, people of color, immigrants and Indigenous people.

With the Black Lives Matter protests appearing to be in the future of political life for some time to come, it is time to actively connect our struggle with others, whether it is racism with economic justice; wars in Africa to wars in the Americas, Asia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine and Korea; or sweatshop exploitation in Los Angeles; the fight against international arms sales, child labor and child soldiers; or fighting AIDS and poverty at home. Only by linking all of our struggles together against our common enemy can we see a better future, together!

Lee Siu Hin, a Chinese American long-time, low-paid immigrant worker activist, now working on community health, is the national coordinator of National Immigrant Solidarity Network (ImmigrantSolidarity.org). Lee’s “Capitalism on a Ventilator: Impact of COVID-19 in China vs. U.S.” will be co-published with the International Action Center in August 2020. More information at ActionLA.org, activistweb@gmail.com and twitter@siuhin.