COVID-19 has the number 19 attached to it because the virus first emerged in the late fall of 2019 in China. As the first country to encounter the virus, China had a duty to report it and respond to it for its population. That response brought with it the first global lockdowns instituted by China. We’re approaching three years since China started all this, and despite all the progress of the United States, China is still at step one.
China continues its lockdowns.
The Chinese Communist Party forced the Chinese people into lockdowns, shut down their economy, and nothing has changed. The New York Times reports, “The number of infections remains relatively small, with about 1,500 new cases on Sunday. Yet some 60 million people across China are facing partial or full lockdowns, according to Chinese media, from Chengdu to the southern economic powerhouse of Shenzhen to the oil-producing city of Daqing near Russia.”
That report isn’t from 2019, 2020, or 2021. It’s current reporting out of China nearly three years after the emergency of COVID-19. The West has moved beyond COVID-19 being a top issue. Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party can’t emerge from zero-COVID lockdowns.
Scenes from Chinese supermarkets bring back echoes of the earliest days of the pandemic. The New York Times had this scene, “In the hours before the southern Chinese city of Chengdu entered a coronavirus lockdown, Matthew Chen visited four vegetable markets in an attempt to stock up on fresh food. But seemingly the entire city had the same idea, and by the time he got to each place, most of the shelves had been stripped bare, except for hot peppers and fruit, he said.”
Chinese authorities announce new lockdowns with no warnings, and the grocery stores are stripped bare within hours. Americans are dealing with supply chain disruptions and shortages of various kinds. Still, the types of panic seen in China right now are a memory for most.
China claims to surpass the U.S.
There’s been considerable anxiety in the West over whether or not the Chinese have surpassed the United States. One of the primary areas of concern is scientific research and development.
In 2020, Chinese partisans touted numbers claiming that China produced more scientific papers than the United States. “China has outstripped the U.S. in putting out research papers in the natural sciences, data released Friday shows, further illustrating its emerging dominance in scientific investigation.”
The report added, “China now owns the top share of scientific papers at 19.9%, while the U.S. comes in second at 18.3%. These statistics are based on the number of peer-reviewed papers published in scientific journals.” In terms of comparing the two countries on output, this seems like a serious allegation.
Noah Smith, examining these numbers, adds some helpful counters to these data points. Chinese researchers are likely creating scientific echo chambers: “The data sources that depend on citation counts, however, should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s well known that groups of researchers can create “citation rings,” in which they all cite each other’s papers. This happens everywhere of course, and sometimes it’s hard to draw the line between intentional citation inflation and simple clubby human networking. But evidence suggests that Chinese scientists engage in more of this than scientists in the U.S.”
COVID-19 is a pass/fail test.
The part where this entire exercise falls apart for me, however, is COVID-19. If China or the Chinese Communist Party had the scientific research capacity, they’re trying to tout, building a working vaccine for COVID-19 should be straightforward. All you have to do is compare the outputs of the United States to China on producing a vaccine.
In the United States, the average person has access to vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax. Further, if infected, they can access various anti-virals and other treatment options. Facing a new virus with unknown properties, the United States produced multiple vaccines and treatment options. The US even ended shortages of different medical devices like ventilators.
America did all this in less than 18 months under the guidance of Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed. And if we’re being brutally honest, politics prevented those vaccines from arriving earlier. Democrats didn’t want vaccines to arrive before the 2020 elections.
In comparison, we’re nearly three years into China’s response to COVID-19. China lacks a vaccine of comparable quality to those found in the West. We know that throughout 2020, China and Russia engaged in espionage against U.S. universities and private companies to steal vaccine research.
It’s not just that China doesn’t have a vaccine; they haven’t been able to produce research to match U.S. research and development in the middle of a global crisis. A global pandemic is an ultimate pass/fail test for whether a country has a true edge in scientific research. China failed.
The Chinese Communist Party has answered with brutal lockdowns. That specific policy tells us that China cannot design and produce a vaccine for COVID-19 after three years. Further, it tells us that their healthcare system cannot handle the surge of patients, and they’d rather maintain brutal lockdowns than allow their healthcare system to take COVID-19-positive patients.
Scientific research is more than just journal statistics. Scientific research and development must produce products and services that work. America is beyond COVID-19 despite having less time to respond than China. Meanwhile, China is stuck where they were in 2019 on the pandemic.
That tells us more about their scientific research than any journal statistics.