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NTS Working Paper No. 1

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Comparing the H1N1 Crises and Responses in the US and China

By Yanzhong Huang

Both the US and China responded to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic in a decisive and swift manner. However, they handled the crisis with fundamentally different strategies. From the start of the crisis, the US approach was mitigation, focusing on minimising the impact by maximising surge capacity. By contrast, China’s response until September 2009 was characterised by an aggressive containment approach that sought to establish barriers against the spread of the disease. In doing so, emphasis was placed on reducing the surge. While the divergent policy responses can be attributed to the differences in the pattern of spread of the virus and policy learning experiences, Chinese leaders had strong political incentives to pursue an excessive approach not informed by science and epidemiology. A comparison of the effectiveness of the two strategies clearly points to the inferiority of the containment strategy in handling the H1N1 pandemic. It is true that decision-makers tend to err on the side of caution when encountering an unpredictable and potentially disastrous novel disease, but that is no justification for allowing risk assessment and risk communication be dominated by worst-case scenarios, or allowing domestic political concerns to prevail over science in decision-making. A comparison between the US and China also suggests the importance of beefing up core surveillance and response capabilities in a coherent and sustainable manner.


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About the Centre:

The Centre for NTS Studies of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, was inaugurated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary-General Dr Surin Pitsuwan in May 2008. The Centre maintains research in the fields of Climate Change, Energy Security, Health Security, as well as Internal and Cross Border Conflict. It produces policy-relevant analyses aimed at furthering awareness and building capacity to address NTS issues and challenges in the Asia Pacific region and beyond. The Centre also provides a platform for scholars and policymakers within and outside Asia to discuss and analyse NTS issues in the region.

In 2009, the Centre was chosen by the MacArthur Foundation as a lead institution for the MacArthur Asia Security Initiative, to develop policy research capacity and recommend policies on the critical security challenges facing the Asia-Pacific.

The Centre is also a founding member and the Secretariat for the Consortium of Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies in Asia (NTS-Asia). More information on the Centre can be found at

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