US-China COVID-19 Narrative
BY MANISH JUNG PULAMI · 14TH JUNE 2020
Coronavirus pandemic is the global crisis and the greatest challenge in the world after WWII. And, this coronavirus is being fought at numerous fronts- medical, informational and ideological. As the states have been isolating their populaces to keep the coronavirus contained, some powerful governments are simultaneously waging a worldwide war of perceptions on “Why did pandemic happen?“, “Who is responsible for this?“, and “Which state should lead the fight?“
COVID-19 pandemic in the present situations are leading to the questions, “What will world look like in post-COVID?” and “What political system or superpower will lead the world?” In a race of creating the answer for the future, the two rivals of the world power politics, China and the USA are in the race. From China’s attempt to lid the story of the pandemic to USA’s campaign to brand COVID-19 a Chinese Virus, US-China relations are revolving on the COVID-19 narratives at present.
There are no questions on China’s initially slow response and USA’s negligence in the effects on the virus, which has led the US-China narratives. In the early days, US President Donald Trump appreciated China’s work and President Xi Jinping for containing the virus. Later after the outbreak of coronavirus in Europe and later in the USA, Secretary of States Mike Pompeo accused China of covering up the information of the spread of the virus and other related information. Similarly, in a tweet on March 13 Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian mentioned that the United States Army might have brought the novel coronavirus to China which escalated the online conspiracy theory.
Amidst of United States’ threat to withdraw itself from World Health Organization (WHO) or cutting its fund, China was quick in responding to the corona infected states in the world such as hard-hit Northern Italy, Philippines, Venezuela, and assistance to several countries around the globe mentioning that “it was time for the framework of a shared community”. But, the shared community did not come for free, Italy had to buy the equipment and the shocking news came when Spain claimed the testing kits sent by China were “defective” and the UK stated that the kits “didn’t work”. To which, the USA was not late to cite China’s “Mask Diplomacy” as “Mask Culpability”. Both sides have blamed each other and portrayed this moment as a fundamental test of fundamentally different governance.
The Trump administration has constantly criticized China over its handling of the coronavirus burst, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China has recurrently accused the Trump administration of trying to divert from its problems tackling the crisis. Recently, US Senator Rick Scott accused Beijing of trying to block the development of a vaccine to which Beijing has not responded to Senator Scott’s allegations, but in a new document, Beijing has published its response to the virus, which says it has briefed the USA as early as 4 January, when the disease was still largely unknown. Also, US President Trump’s announcement on March 29 that the United States would terminate its relationship with the WHO has raised multiple questions. To which again, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian tweeted that the US is a habitual quitter and quoted their pursuit for unilateralism and power.
Many American policymakers have thought cooperation with China on the response towards COVID-19 as a disadvantage in a zero-sum game for global leadership. Whereas, Chinese officials have matched their US counterparts in demonstrating the superiority of its governance in the containment of the virus. Some have argued that China is using COVID-19 to change the rules of the game in its favour but till now neither the USA nor China has been the real beneficiary of the pandemic.
Hence, both sides are equally responsible for the spread of coronavirus on both sides of the Pacific and have so far squandered the opportunities for cooperation to tackle the obstacle by involving themselves in the narrative war. These blaming narratives are likely to lead to negative-sum outcomes for the USA and China. The COVID-19 outbreak has laid a plethora of observations estimating the geopolitical consequences of the pandemic. Some may argue that it has shifted the balance of power towards China, while others offer less paradigm-shifting assessments indicating COVID-19 to unlikely overturn the existing international order but may catalyze existing global trends. The USA and China independently and through active cooperation could help reverse this lose-lose situation and improve their images. Whatever the consequences may be, but at present, this unproductive narrative of US-China relations in the COVID-19 pandemic is a modern tragedy.
Disclaimer: The article was originally published in The Kootneeti.