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It’s pretty uncontroversial to say that China could stand to learn a thing or two from liberal democracies around the world. Between cultural genocide of its Uyghur population or crushing surveillance of its population, China is undeniably a menace of human rights violations. Whatever legitimate grievances one could levy against countries like the United States, it’s practically undeniable that our liberal system of government is more effective at protecting civil rights within our borders. Admittedly, this is notably not the case in our foreign policy, and this notion completely falls flat when analyzing the United States’ lackluster response to COVID compared to China’s more aggressive approach. Despite massive underreporting in China, their COVID policies have been much more effective than the United States.

Since early 2020, China has attempted to implement an ambitious “zero COVID” policy to fight the pandemic. This meant strict lockdowns in at-risk regions, aggressive quarantines for infected people and large-scale testing of the population. Only half a year later, the pandemic was largely absent from China, with most of the country looking forward to a COVID-safe summer. Meanwhile, the U.S. continued to oscillate between very-concerning and only somewhat-concerning COVID numbers. 

It’s imperative to note that China’s COVID reporting is almost certainly underreported. All countries seem to underreport COVID deaths to some extent, although this is mostly an administrative issue and not so much a means of “covering up” data. According to an investigation by The Economist, the United States underreports COVID deaths by about 30%. Worldwide, Forbes reports that Amber D’Souza, who is a Professor of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, estimates that the true death toll “is two or three times higher than the number of deaths we know about.” In contrast to the U.S. at approximately 30%, an even more shocking Economist estimate claims that the total death toll in China is likely 1.7 million — roughly twice as many deaths as the United States. According to The Economist, China underreports its COVID death rate by a shocking 17,000%. 

Even with the country’s malicious underreporting of COVID cases in mind, China still beats the United States on COVID. Despite totalling roughly twice as many deaths, it’s important to keep in mind that China is home to 1.4 billion people compared to the United States’ still-large, but much smaller, 330 million. It’s important to call out China’s oppressive political system while still acknowledging the millions of lives saved as a result of “zero COVID.” Had the United States taken a similar approach to COVID, we might be in a much better position, roughly two years into the pandemic.