News Analysis| Western Media Still Appears ‘Confused’ About China's COVID Policy Adjustments

News Analysis| Western Media Still Appears ‘Confused’ About China's COVID Policy Adjustments
"To be or not to be, that is the question," Hamlet said in his famous soliloquy when faced with the difficult choice of life or death. But it appears that the Western media is even more perplexed than the tragic prince, when it comes to the question of whether China should "open or not open" after COVID. 

Since China reconfigured its pandemic prevention and control measures, much of Western media was quick to raise concerns on all kinds of disastrous results as China began to reopen. It seemed like only a few months, or even some days ago, that the same media outlets were decrying China's "dynamic zero-COVID" strategy. 

Among the loudest in calling for 'adjustments' in China’s COVID policy was The Economist, which published an article in early June last year demanding China abandon its dynamic zero-COVID policies, claiming that "in stamping out COVID, China has stomped on confidence". But when China began to loosen restrictions and adopt a modified COVID prevention strategy, The Economist lectured, "China is loosening its COVID restrictions at great risk," and that "China’s reopening will disrupt the world economy."

Another example would be CNN’s article in September last year, touting China’s "Zero-COVID: at what price?" But the same outlet carried another report in December, titled "as China moves away from zero COVID, health experts warn of dark days ahead."

The Guardian headline from November 30th read: "Zero COVID can’t continue in China; reopening is the only way to quell public anger." But just 4 days later, the outlet that demanded China let the virus loose, claimed that "fears of deadly infection surge as China abandons zero-COVID policy."

And the list goes on. But is it odd? 

Such contradictory behavior actually has an element of déjà vu about it: not just COVID policies, but whatever China does, it's all bad. In the past two years, they warned about the enormous risks – if China doesn’t "loosen up" – and they do exactly the same now – that China has dismantled its COVID measures. Is there any logic in these circular arguments?  

The obvious answer is that a double standard persists. While sensationalizing every COVID story in China, these Western media outlets are also blamed for turning a blind eye to chaotic COVID policies in their own home countries, which resulted in hundreds of thousand, and in some cases millions, of deaths.

Unlike most Western countries who instituted a "let it rip" approach to the pandemic, China's "dynamic zero-COVID" approach was more careful, calculated, and preventative. The "dynamic zero-COVID" strategy never implied "zero infections" but rather emphasised cutting off the spread of new infections – as soon as detected – and eventually preparing for an orderly and controlled reopening of the economy and society. This resulted in over 90% of the population being fully vaccinated, and the avoidance of 4 waves of infections by newer, more lethal variants. 

The West doesn’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to COVID strategy. 

Despite having four times the population of the United States, China had a much lower COVID death rate. While Americans' average life expectancy fell from 78.8 years in 2019 to 76.1 years in 2021, the figure in China grew from 77.3 years to 78.2.

While COVID continues to rage across the world, what's probably even more dangerous than Omicron – or the next new variant or virus – is the deeply ingrained arrogance and zero-sum mentality. It has the potential to drag our world into further disarray and catalyse a downward spiral of chaos and conflict.

Here is a wild idea for my western colleagues: instead of being inconsistent and ending up caught in a bind, why not drop the prejudice and the hypocrisy? Simply report the objective facts and ground realities as they are, and let the audience decide based on the information they have. 

Anna Ge is a journalist based in Beijing. She is affiliated with Chinese state broadcaster CGTN and hosts "World Today" on CGTN Radio.