Why is China so small

China's advantage in fighting pandemics : "You can just force people"

Mr. Grünberg, has China already mastered Covid-19?
At least a better model for fighting the virus has been found than the West. China has taken drastic measures to keep the spread of the disease small after the first wave in January. 3.2 percent economic growth was just reported in the second quarter.

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When the number of cases began to drop, the Chinese government tried to sell it as a success of their system. And with the Chinese propaganda machine, of course, one has the best possible means of spreading this good news.

But are the numbers credible?
The economy is definitely back on track, but it is still supply-side, investment and industrial-driven. Consumption is not yet back to the level it was before the pandemic, but the volume of trade between the EU and China is back to around 90 percent of the previous level. However, the Chinese economy is now severely affected when export markets disappear, for example due to a possible renewed lockdown in Europe. So China hasn't made it yet either.

How well has the propaganda worked since the corona outbreak?
After the first few weeks after the outbreak in Wuhan were wasted, communication has been organized very centrally since February. There are regular reports in the media about how successful the party is in the fight against the virus, how well it has all been mastered.

How does the population react to this?
Support for the government has grown. Not just because the number of infections is low. But just in contrast to what is going on in the USA or Europe. Since the party has collected plus points.

Do you trust the official numbers?
Inasmuch as they represent a realistic trend. There is no telling whether they are exact, but I see no reason to believe that there are major outbreaks somewhere that are being kept hidden.

Some medical professionals, who do not want to read their name in the newspaper in this context, assume that nothing is true with the numbers.
There are certainly an unknown number of unreported cases and cases that have not been made public, but I don't think we are in the tens of thousands. With all the censorship capacity that would not be possible. If only because of the many Chinese living abroad who have good contacts in the country.

What do the measures against Covid-19 mean for the Chinese population in the long term?
It was planned for a long time to expand surveillance. Corona, however, was a kind of accelerator. You could say that the crisis has opened the government's eyes to what can be done and how quickly it can be done. And the seriousness of the situation could justify it to the population.

Yet there is also resistance. Especially on social networks.
The problem of data protection is increasingly being recognized by politicians. There are serious efforts by the government to curb the misuse of personal data. The fact that the Chinese security apparatus can read and listen to everything will certainly not change. On the contrary.

Because it has proven to be very effective with Corona?
Exactly, and not only in the digital world, but also on a local level. Social control at the smallest level, for example through block attendants who are responsible for a block of flats and see who goes where when, has proven to be an immensely useful monitoring tool for the government during the pandemic. The digital component has now made it all more effective and easier.

Is the West's view of China's handling of the pandemic too negative?
I find it much more interesting to recap how we looked at China in January and how it was dealing with this new disease. And how we look at it today. At that time it was still said in the West that the Chinese are crazy with their quarantine of an entire city and these masks that everyone is wearing. In the meantime, one domino stone after the other fell and we have more and more aligned our measures with the Chinese.

What works better in China?
China's leadership can mobilize an extremely large amount of resources in crisis situations, both material and personnel. Especially in the populous regions on the east coast, everything from the government to the block warden is tightly organized.

Nine million people have just been tested for 12 confirmed Covid cases in the city of Qingdao.
The test capacities are completely different from ours. Because China manages to quickly scale technical solutions up to an industrial level. This is due to the political powers combined with the resources. You also have the options, for example through digital and physical controls, to force people to take a corona test and go into quarantine. Such supposedly ridiculous things as personal rights are of secondary importance.

What can we learn from China?
There are three elements that go into a successful strategy against the virus. Testing what it takes, consistently following up contacts, quarantine for suspected cases and confirmed infections. In addition to China, Taiwan, South Korea and New Zealand did it that way. With a positive result. That works less well for us.

How will things go on in China?
The health system will be strengthened. A reform is already in the pipeline. This involves capacities in hospitals, the training of staff and the immense pent-up demand for crisis management, which completely failed in December and January. Nevertheless, the crisis will go down in the party's historiography as great evidence of the superiority of the system.

Nis Grünberg conducts research at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin on governance and ideology as well as on the integration of state and party in China under President Xi Jinping.

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