Liberal democracy does not guarantee ethnic minorities in times of pandemic

Sanitary workers clean the Potala Palace Square in Lhasa, capital of southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, February 8, 2021. The Tibetan Spring Festival and Tibetan New Year fall on February 12 this year Photo: Xinhua

The outcome of the epidemic for China’s ethnic minorities has not been as expected in mainstream Western discourse. A former US State Department official even claimed that China’s system of governance makes it unable to tackle viral epidemics in the effective way liberal democracies do. Meanwhile, a leading UK business newspaper has said diseases like COVID-19 are deadlier in non-democracies.

One would expect ethnic minority groups to fare better during the epidemic in countries like India than in China, but the fact has been the opposite: in the US, UK United and in India, minorities are over-represented among the victims. In the United States, with the sole exception of Asian Americans, Indigenous people, black and Pacific Islanders, and Latin Americans all have COVID-19 death rates double or more than white Americans.

In China, ethnic minorities appear to be under-represented among victims of COVID-19. Ethnicity-based statistics on COVID-19 are not readily available, but it is still possible to make inferences. Hubei province (central China) has around 66% of the total number of cases in China and its capital Wuhan was the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. Hubei’s ethnic minorities mainly live in Enshi, which has recorded just 74 cases of COVID-19 per million population, the lowest case rate in the province’s prefecture.

By comparison, the largest indigenous nation in the United States, the Navajo, had 30,722 COVID-19 cases and 1,293 deaths on its reserve as of May 18, 2021. Based on the reserve population (2010 census) , or 177,854 cases and 7,474 deaths. per million, approximately 1.75 times the case rate and 4 times the death rate of the American population as a whole.

The result for the Navajo comes from the 40 percent poverty rate on the reserve, inadequate funding for health care and infrastructure, high rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, and 30 to 40 percent residents who lack running water, which makes washing difficult. hands as often as recommended.

A comparison can also be made between the epidemic situation in the Tibet Autonomous Region in southwest China, where the population of 3.5 million is 90% Tibetan, and the situation of Tibetan exiles in India and Nepal, with a population of approximately 86,000.

As of May 3, 2021, 2,584 Tibetans in India, Nepal and Bhutan have tested positive, with 59 deaths, media reported. By May 18, 2021, the situation had worsened. Among Tibetans in India, Nepal and Bhutan, there had been 3,510 cases and 88 deaths.

Official Chinese data shows only one case and no deaths in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which covers about an eighth of Chinese territory. Harvard Medical School professor Dr William Haseltine has affirmed the reliability of Chinese statistics on COVID-19.

In short, ethnic Tibetans in China have been much better protected against the virus than their co-ethnic people in India. Ironically, India’s so-called Tibetan government-in-exile has called on countries to sue China in the International Court of Justice for spreading the virus. In fact, as University of Queensland virologist Ian McKay observed, the Wuhan lockdown has effectively reduced the spread of the virus to other parts of China.

The difference between how Tibetans in China and India have behaved in the epidemic is not because those in India cannot afford adequate care. Tibetans in India receive significant funds and other support from Western NGOs and the Indian government as part of its policy to rehabilitate Tibet. The US government gives $ 9 million a year to Tibetan exile groups, while the US Congress has also provided a grant of $ 23 million.

The more precarious epidemic situation of Tibetan exile communities in India, compared to Tibetans in China, is the result of disastrous policies at the national level, and perhaps also locally. The comparison belies both the insistence of Western discourse that liberal democratic political systems are necessarily superior to the Chinese system, and the specific assertion that ethnic minorities should be better off wherever there is an alternation of parties. to be able to.

Barry Sautman is Visiting Professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Yan Hairong is Associate Professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. [email protected]

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