China bought the west time. The west squandered it.

But that won’t change the fact that for weeks now, the attitude toward the coronavirus outbreak in the United States and much of Europe has been bizarrely reactive, if not outright passive — or that the governments in those regions have let pass their best chance to contain the virus’s spread. Having seen a kind of initial denial play out already in China, I feel a sense of déjà vu. But while China had to contend with a nasty, sudden surprise, governments in the West have been on notice for weeks.

It’s as if China’s experience hadn’t given Western countries a warning of the perils of inaction. Instead, many governments seem to have imitated some of the worst measures China put in place, while often turning a blind eye to the best of them, or its successes.

Outsiders seem to want to view China’s experiences as uniquely its own. I imagine there are many reasons for this, including the comforting idea that China is far away and an epidemic over there surely couldn’t really spread so far and so fast over here. More than anything, though, I think that outsiders, especially in the West, fixate on China’s authoritarian political system, and that makes them discount the possible value and relevance of its decisions to them.

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