Responses to COVID-19 in China and the United States: How Governance Matters

The National Interest.

18 Pages Posted: 19 May 2020 Last revised: 12 Jan 2021

See all articles by Shui Yan Tang

Shui Yan Tang

University of Southern California

Brian An

Georgia Institute of Technology

Date Written: May 24, 2020


Emergency management necessarily requires collaboration across multiple layers and units of government. A country’s governance and intergovernmental system shapes its approaches to emergency management. This article focuses on two countries that have different governing systems—China and the United States. China’s administrative contracting system relies on vertical mechanisms such as hierarchical personnel control to hold local government officials accountable, thus creating incentives for delays in addressing crises when they first emerge. The United States’ polycentric system allows local officials, who are held accountable to local electorates, to sound alarms on emergencies early on. Yet the system may easily suffer from a lack of coordination across levels and units of government. A comparison between the two countries lays the foundations for comparing government responses to COVID-19 and other crises. It also illustrates the need to think about broader governance issues in preparation for large-scale crises in the future.

Keywords: Emergency management, governing system, intergovernmental relations, comparative study, COVID-19

JEL Classification: H83, H77

Suggested Citation

Tang, Shui Yan and An, Brian, Responses to COVID-19 in China and the United States: How Governance Matters (May 24, 2020). The National Interest., Available at SSRN: or

Shui Yan Tang

University of Southern California ( email )

Los Angeles, CA 90089-0626
United States
2137400379 (Phone)

Brian An (Contact Author)

Georgia Institute of Technology ( email )

685 Cherry St
Atlanta, GA 30332
United States


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