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Singaporean professor: Too much politics, insufficient support for science main reason for West’s failure in COVID-19 fight

(People's Daily Online)    10:01, May 18, 2020

Too much politics and not enough support for science has been the main cause for the inadequate response to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Western countries, including the U.S., which places politics above science, pointed out Singaporean professor Cheng Yung-nien in a recent article.

Some remarks have been made aimed at passing the buck to various countries out of political motives, but no other country in the world has so many top officials who have spent so much energy shifting the blame to China like the U.S. has, said the article published in Singapore’s Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao on May 12.

Just imagine how many lives could have been saved had these officials and politicians used that energy to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Cheng, professor and director of the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore, said in the article.

While the pandemic spreads around the world, the achievements made in fighting it have differed sharply among various countries, the article pointed out.

Compared to Western countries, especially the U.S. and the UK, East Asian countries have obviously made more achievements in fighting the pandemic, Cheng said, noting that the key to the success of these countries is that their governments managed to strike a balance between science and politics.

Although there are many factors that have led to the differences in efforts to fight the pandemic among various countries, how the conflict between politics and science has been handled is without doubt the most critical issue behind these differences, Cheng pointed out, stressing that if the issue is handled properly, countries will not only be able to bring the COVID-19 situation under control, but also avoid great social and economic losses.

So far, the story of the fight against COVID-19 in the U.S. seems to have been one that focuses on executive power, particularly the conflicts between the president on the one hand and scientists and experts on the other, Cheng said.

Politics has been placed above science in the U.S. on three levels, namely the U.S. president, interest groups, and internationally, said the article.

U.S. President Donald Trump has without doubt played the main role in putting politics above science, said Cheng, noting that Trump has even rejected experts’ scientific advice due to consideration of his personal power and election campaigns.

In order to expand his personal authority, Trump has frequently rejected authoritative voices and facts that have gone against his own standpoint or that were made in an effort to correct his errors, said Cheng.

Trump has pushed this situation to its extreme during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cheng wrote, explaining that the president has on many occasions ignored the science-based suggestions put forward by officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and experts, played down the pandemic, and even come up with unsupported treatment methods.

Interest groups in the U.S. have placed politics above science in arguments over whether the economy is more important than life and in the decision-making process behind related policies, the article pointed out.

Many conservative politicians in the U.S. federal government and local governments have always placed the economy above life, and even openly suggested that people’s lives can be sacrificed for the economy, the article noted.

Although such arguments are inevitable, the idea that the economy is more important than life has had an impact on the effectiveness of the anti-epidemic policies of the U.S. federal government and local governments across the country, said the article.

Despite the fact that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the U.S., the White House recently announced that the country has made significant progress in bringing the pandemic under control, and as a result the COVID-19 task force led by the White House will be soon dissolved and the country’s anti-epidemic efforts will be coordinated by various departments of the federal government, the article noted.

However, several U.S. experts have all indicated that restarting the economy will lead to a dramatic surge in numbers of new cases and deaths, said the article, adding that various polls have also suggested that more than half of the U.S. population are worried about lifting the lockdown.

According to U.S. media, in April, the CDC drafted guidelines on reopening the U.S. step-by-step, but the guidelines were shelved by the Trump administration as they went against his plan to let state governors and local officials make their own decisions on reopening, Cheng said in the article.

The move by the White House has covertly shifted the onus for implementation of anti-epidemic measures to local officials and even enterprises, Cheng pointed out, noting that some Republican-controlled states are eager to reopen their economies, while states controlled by Democrats continue making efforts to fight the pandemic.

The U.S. president and political heavyweights have been trying their best to shift the blame for the spread of the novel coronavirus to China, the article noted.

Although scientific communities around the world, including those in the U.S., are still working on research to determine the origin of the virus, political circles and conservative media organizations in the U.S. have constantly fabricated various “theories” about the virus, Cheng said in the article.

By claiming that the novel coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab, that China should be held accountable for the spread of the virus, and that China should compensate for losses incurred during the pandemic, certain U.S. politicians and media have attempted to scapegoat China for the U.S.’s inadequate response to the outbreak, Cheng said.

U.S. Republicans are attempting to use the card of “China’s responsibility” to help Trump salvage his re-election campaign, Cheng pointed out, adding that the U.S. also intended to cook up conspiracy theories about COVID-19 through the “Five Eyes” alliance.

The U.S. has gone so far that even some members of the alliance are starting to distance themselves from it, Cheng wrote, adding that U.S. allies had previously made the huge mistake of believing the country when it falsely alleged that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Politics exists objectively and is absolutely necessary in any country, Cheng said.

But if politics is placed above science, it will be difficult to find the most effective approach to saving people’s lives, Cheng stressed.

Finding a balance between politics and science is a common problem for various countries, Cheng said, adding that so far, East Asian society has performed far better in this regard than Western countries.      

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Liang Jun)

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