An article in today’s Wall Street Journal asks an interesting question: Why is the West having so much less success handling COVID-19 than East Asia? Cases are spiking again in Europe, and America has long made little headway in containing the pandemic. Meanwhile, in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, “bars and restaurants are bustling, subway trains are packed and live concerts and spectator sports have resumed,” the Journal notes.
At the heart of the discrepancy, it seems, are differing views of liberty. Western views of liberty have for decades driven an unprecedented expansion of freedom worldwide, showing the power of human rights to uplift societies. But the coronavirus is showing how, in Asian democracies, citizens are using those liberties differently. They are putting their own personal preferences aside to serve a larger goal.
Francesco Wu, an Italian Chinese restaurant owner who grew up in Italy, tells the Journal: “Here we are used to having so many liberties – and that’s a great thing. But we are not as used to discipline, to self-sacrifice.”
As one office worker in Seoul, South Korea, tells the Journal, he hates wearing a mask, but “I would rather make sacrifices.” In that way, East Asia is seeing COVID-19 restrictions not as an imposed burden, but as the expression of a genuine desire to act effectively together.