COVID-19 must not be a weapon of great power politics

COVID-19 must not be a weapon of great power politics

Society’s structure holds less purchase on us than we think

In a futuristic work of art that went viral this fall, the Chinese artist Fan Wennan envisions a world brought to heel by Communist China.

By the year 2098, America is a satellite state, and Manhattan a tourist attraction memorializing the “tragedy” of Western decay. Plastered across the beige columns of the former New York Stock Exchange hangs the lurid red flag of the “People’s Union of America.”

As emergent vaccines signal a provisional end to the pandemic, how we choose to interpret the lessons of the past year will have consequences for future generations. Some wax philosophical on our penchant for undue suffering, while others use historical patterns to glean that which is yet to come. Yet the most popular story of the year was geopolitical: how the uneven effects of the pandemic revealed the truth of the best political model.

Since March, Chinese nationalists have championed the view that their country’s successful handling of the pandemic vindicates its authoritarian model of governance. Its essential features — political centralization, lack of respect for civil rights and strong state capacity — many say, make it especially well equipped for emergency situations like the pandemic.