In Defense of Freedom
The New York Times' January 4th puff piece on Chinese “Freedom” came at a good time for the Chinese Communist Party. In a time when public weariness of COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions is at an all time high, the article dangles a tantalizing mirage of a world that resembles the one we once knew in the West. It cites the experience of a Mr. Duncan Clark, a businessman who has lived in the US, France, and China, “sighing with relief” when he realizes he is going to China, where he will enjoy the privilege of eating in restaurants and attending large, sophisticated parties with other wealthy socialites. Such privileges, the article contends, are possible thanks to China's totalitarian lockdowns earlier this year, which the West failed to replicate properly due to our troublesome tendency of valuing liberty and basic human rights. What a bother! As a result, according to the article, the US has hundreds of thousands of COVID cases which prevent us from moving about freely, while China has only 25 cases in a nation of 1.3 billion, allowing them “the most basic of freedom” of movement and ability to live their daily lives as normal.
The concept of freedom sold by this article however, is hollow, and it is a wonder that America's premier newspaper is seemingly unable to see through the veneer. This is after all, the same country that less than one year ago, lied about the existence of the outbreak altogether and frantically tried to cover its tracks as the West began to catch on to seriousness of the problem. Why would we now trust this country when it reports the seemingly impossible figure of 25 cases? We shouldn't, as it turns out. 2 weeks ago, the city of Shijiazhuang in China's Hebei province reported 117 cases and promptly locked down their population of 11 million people. The outbreak has now spread to other cities, prompting new restrictions on freedom of movement ahead of the Lunar New Year. Somehow, the authoritarian lockdowns of Spring 2020 failed to prevent this seasonal resurgence of the virus, which been observed in almost every corner of the world. Not only did the lockdowns fail to contain the virus, but the idea that the Chinese enjoy freedom of movement and to live their daily lives is laughable. Clearly, the New York times did not bother to interview any Chinese Uighurs for their piece. The elite businessmen featured as the article's main spokespeople for the situation in China are not representative of the Chinese populace as a whole. The article concedes that “citizens of China don’t have freedom of speech, freedom of worship or freedom from fear”, but still maintains that people from around the world “envy” the most basic freedom of movement now denied to them in their home countries. Perhaps this is true for Misters Clark and Dong who were interviewed for the piece, but it is not true for rural Chinese farmers who are still treated as serfs, tied by law to the soil they till and forbidden from moving to one of China's more comfortable and modern cities. And it is certainly not true for religions minorities and political dissidents who are subject to sterilization, forced labor, and other horrors that the West prefers to ignore as we applaud China for their successful efforts in defeating COVID-19.
Fortunately, COVID-19 is not so deadly that it will by itself stop society from functioning. States like Florida and South Dakota for instance, are still functioning, despite their refusal to implement universal lockdowns and forbid people from taking walks after dark. Like China, people living in these states still enjoy freedom of movement, along with freedom to worship, speak their minds, and “live their daily lives.” But the Times would rather not report on these successes. As evidenced by the recent COVID resurgences, China's stringent lockdown did not completely eradicate the virus, and I would argue, was never designed to. Rather, the lockdown and associated censorship was sold by China's cronies at the WHO to a panicked Western World, which served to groom free and open nations into accepting Chinese style totalitarian governance. The plan worked brilliantly. China was one of the few countries to enjoy economic growth in 2020, while economies across Europe and the US shrank noticeably. Additionally, nations like Great Britain, Canada, and Australia have done their best to imitate China's approach and are now rife with examples of human rights abuses, just like the country they chose to emulate.
To list a few examples, in Australia, a woman was denied hospital care as she was experiencing an agonizing miscarriage while trying to return home from another province. After driving over unpaved outback roads for hours, she was forced to complete the grizzly experience in a gully on the side of the road after medical staff inside told her they couldn't assist her because she was supposed to be quarantining. How can this be considered public health? In Quebec, it is now illegal to be outdoors between the hours of 8PM-5AM. Prime Minister Francois Legault specified that this also applied to the homeless population, stressing that there were enough spaces for everyone in shelters. However, less than two weeks later, a man froze to death just steps from one of Montreal's homeless shelters, as they were required to close after 9:30PM. Or, take for example the case of Francesco Barducci, the young Italian man who was fined 400 euros for the crime of kissing his girlfriend in a secluded, outdoor area. I could go on, but the point is that the Western world is beginning to look and act more and more like China, and nearly a year after we began locking down, this “new normal” seems more and more likely to be permanent.
Our governments promised us, at first, that our rights would be restored after a successful lockdown of 2-4 weeks. When this inevitably failed, we were then told that masking, social distancing, and in some cases, more lockdowns, would have to continue until we had a vaccine. However, like in China, these mandates did nothing to stop the seasonal resurgence of the virus. In many areas, deaths have surged to peaks even higher than the original March 2020 outbreak. They were however, a great benefit to the Chinese PPE export market, which has supplied the US with hundreds of millions of KN95 masks since April and shows no signs of slowing down. Now, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being administered to essential workers and vulnerable populations around the world. We could expect, based on the promises of our leaders in Summer 2020, that we would begin to see plans for phased reopenings and loosening of some restrictions. Not so. Leading health organizations such as the CDC, the Mayo Clinic, and others, are now informing us that social distancing, economic restrictions, and masking will have to continue even after vaccines are widely available. This is because, despite the fact that both vaccines have been touted as being over 95% effective, the effect on transmission is still uncertain. In other words, there is no way out. Lockdowns failed, and vaccines will ultimately fail as well to achieve the quixotic new goal of 0 COVID.
China will continue to live with this virus and others that will inevitably come along. Their totalitarian system of governance is so entrenched that they do not need the cover of a deadly virus to keep it in place. The trick for them is only to incentivize the West, through propaganda campaigns like the New York Times piece, to continue restrictions until our citizens are used to them. The return of our freedoms will always be just around the corner, just one more “short and sharp” lockdown away, but never quite within reach. COVID-19 will eventually come to a natural end and be replaced by other seasonal corona or rhinoviruses. But the human rights violations and authoritarian overreach that have become commonplace in Western society will not stop until the public collectively chooses freedom over fear and elects new leaders who respect our founding values.