US-China Battle Behind The Scenes
It is clearly not a good time for the world and it is not a good time for relations between the US and China. President Donald Trump has repeatedly chosen to call the coronavirus the “Chinese virus”. His hawkish Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calls it the “Wuhan virus”, something that causes huge offence in Beijing.
The president and secretary of state have both denounced China for its failings in the initial handling of the outbreak. But Chinese spokesmen have utterly rejected any idea that they were less than transparent about what was going on. Meanwhile, social media in China has spread stories that the pandemic has been caused by a US military germ warfare programme; rumours that gained considerable traction. Scientists have demonstrated that the virus structure is entirely natural in origin.
But this is not just a war of words, something more fundamental is going on.
Earlier this month, when the US announced that it was closing its borders to travellers from many EU countries, including Italy, the Chinese government announced that it was sending medical teams and supplies to Italy, the country at the leading edge of the coronavirus pandemic. It has sent help to Iran and Serbia too.
It was a moment of huge symbolism. And it was an indication of the information battle that is being waged behind the scenes, with China eager to emerge from this crisis with renewed status as a global player. Indeed, it is a battle which the US – at the moment – is losing hands down. And the belated despatch of a small mobile US Air Force medical facility to Italy is hardly going to alter the equation.
This is a moment when the administrative and political systems of all countries are being stress-tested like never before. Leadership will be at a premium. Existing political leaders will ultimately be judged by how they seized the moment; the clarity of their discourse; and the efficiency with which they marshalled their countries’ resources to respond to the pandemic.
The pandemic has hit at a time when US-China relations were already at a low ebb. A partial trade deal has barely plastered over the commercial tensions between the two countries. Both China and the US are re-arming, openly preparing for a potential future conflict in the Asia-Pacific. China has already emerged, at least in regional terms, as a military super-power in its own right. And China now is eager for the wider status that it believes its international position requires.
The pandemic then threatens to pitch US-China relations into an even more difficult period. This could have an important bearing upon both the course of this crisis and the world that emerges from it. When the virus is defeated, China’s economic resurgence is going to play a critical role in helping to rebuild the shattered global economy.
But for now, Chinese assistance is essential in combating the coronavirus. Medical data and experiences need to continue to be shared. China is also a huge manufacturer of medical equipment and disposable items like masks and protective suits, essential to handling infected patients and items that are required in astronomical numbers.
China is in many ways the medical manufacturing workshop of the world, capable of expanding production in ways few other countries can. China is seizing an opportunity but, according to many of President Trump’s critics, it is he who has dropped the ball.
US-China Battle Behind The Scenes