Sino-American relations: the coronavirus has created a flaw that can take a generation to heal

Chinese media coronavirus reaction rivers pkg tsr vpx _00000000

China has been criticized at home and abroad for its handling of the virus, particularly during the initial epidemic. Rejecting these critics with increasingly fierce rhetoric, Beijing says it is only “responding” to false accusations, particularly from the United States.

In recent weeks, the Trump administration has repeatedly chastised China for managing the epidemic, questioning its death toll and criticizing its rapid response to the virus. Last week, Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims – without providing evidence – that the virus came from a Chinese laboratory. Beijing rebuffed in response, calling the claim a re-election tactic aimed at strengthening Trump’s position among Republican voters – while media outlets controlled by the Chinese government attacked Pompeo in unusually vicious language, calling it “evil”, “foolish” and “enemy of humanity”. . “
But acrimony goes beyond a simple war of words. The Trump administration would have been development of plans to punish China for the pandemic – reprisal options include sanctions, canceling US debt obligations and developing new trade policies. Trump and several administration officials are also enlist foreign allies to join the pressure campaign against China.

“Lowest point” for decades

The dramatic deterioration in relations follows a two-year trade war between the two largest economies in the world – a trade war that had already pushed tensions to new heights and spurred discussions on decoupling.

Yet while Trump’s approach to China is not necessarily new, the situation he faces is “much more dramatic and dangerous,” said David Zweig, professor emeritus at the University of Science and Technology. Hong Kong and director of Transnational China Consulting Limited.

“The stakes are much higher,” said Zweig. “In 2016, it was people’s work. In 2020, it was people’s lives.”

Detected for the first time in the central city of Wuhan last December, the coronavirus has since spread far beyond the country’s borders, infecting 3.9 million people and killing at least 276,000 worldwide.

The United States has reported first case of coronavirus in January – a man who had returned to Washington State from Wuhan a few days earlier. Initially, the situation seemed to be under control, with one death and 22 cases reported across the country in late February. But the number of new infections exploded in March, and the United States now accounts for more than a quarter of the deaths reported worldwide.

The Chinese government has questioned the origins of the pandemic, saying the first cases may not have happened in Wuhan.

Shi Yinhong, Chinese government adviser and professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, said that US-Chinese relations have now “bottomed out since 1972”, when former US President Richard Nixon made his historic visit to Beijing to normalize bilateral relations. with China, which for years had been diplomatically isolated from the West.

Chinese Communist President Chairman Mao Zedong welcomes President Richard Nixon to his home in Beijing during Nixon's historic trip to China in 1972.
Shi’s assessment is particularly grim when you consider the number of major crises the two countries were confronted in the following decades: the deadly repression of Tiananmen Square in China in 1989, the American bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999, the mid-air collision of an American spy plane and ‘a Chinese fighter plane near Hainan Island in 2001 and the financial crisis of 2008.

“Since the beginning of 2018, Sino-US relations have already entered a state of global competition and rivalry. However, since the pandemic, relations have been severely damaged,” said Shi.

The rivalry and antagonism between the two countries has now spread to trade, technology, geopolitics and political ideology, and signs of decoupling are also developing under the pandemic as lock-in measures disrupt flights, international travel and global supply chains, said Shi.

Rise of nationalism

As bilateral relations collapsed during the pandemic, American public opinion on China has also reached a new low. A recent Pew poll found that 66% of Americans had a negative opinion of China, the highest percentage recorded since the start of the annual survey in 2005. Only about a quarter of the United States reported a favorable attitude towards regard of china.

Similarly, in China, nationalism and anti-foreign sentiment are on the rise. Supported by the media and state officials, there is also a growing sense of bitterness that the Chinese people, especially the people of Wuhan, have made enormous sacrifices to contain the virus and suffered great losses. , but their country is still criticized for not doing enough – – and for blaming the inadequate response of other governments in managing the pandemic.

“It is very clear that in the event of external hostility towards China, the people tend to become more nationalist. And the (Chinese Communist) Party plays on it,” said Zweig.

“People feel that the Chinese ethnic group is under attack. They are becoming very defensive. And it is very difficult for more rational voices to express themselves.”

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Economic growth and nationalism have been the two sources of political legitimacy for the Chinese Communist Party for decades. The country’s economy was hit hard by the coronavirus epidemic, shrinking 6.8% in the first quarter of this year – the worst plunge since quarterly records started in 1992. And with economic growth more difficult to argue that the party should never turn more to nationalism to consolidate its grip on power.

As the number of new infections fell in China and increased abroad, state media touted China’s success in defeating the virus while highlighting the failures of other governments to contain its spread – in especially the United States.

On April 30, the Chinese news agency Xinhua released an animated video of Lego-type characters who laughed at the American response to the pandemic. It has been viewed 2 million times on Twitter.

“Despite some mistakes in the early days in Wuhan, the Chinese people are very satisfied with the package of actions. The incompetence of the United States (government) is like a mirror, reflecting the reliability of Chinese (government),” said said Hu Xijin, editor. in chief of the nationalist nationalist tabloid Global Times, in a Tweet Thursday.
In one comment At the end of last month, state television CCTV hailed the Chinese political system as its “biggest advantage” in overcoming the epidemic. “The firm leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is the most important reason for China to overcome the epidemic,” he added.
Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects troops during a parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 2019 in Beijing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to young people in the country last week on the 101st anniversary of the student-led political movement of May 4 sparked by anger over the failure of the government to end foreign aggression and defend the interests of China. It later became broader calls for modernity, democracy and science.

In his speech, Xi praised young people for their role in fighting the coronavirus epidemic and urged them to “work hard to realize the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation,” public TV station CCTV reported. .

Under Xi’s vision of the “Chinese dream” and pressures for “national rejuvenation”, Beijing has become increasingly assertive in its foreign policy, eager to project its influence in the world and to firmly defend its “fundamental” national interests. ”, Including the disputed land claims. . This approach has already drawn criticism at home and abroad for alienating the United States and other members of the international community.

International reaction

As part of the pandemic, Beijing finds itself in the midst of a growing global backlash that extends far beyond the United States.

Outside of China, criticism is mounting regarding its management of the epidemic and pressure is mounting for an independent international investigation to examine its origins. There are also calls for economic compensation from China for the damage caused. In Europe, China has been accused of spreading disinformation. And in Africa, Beijing in the face of a diplomatic crisis after reports of alleged Coronavirus discrimination against African nationals in China sparked anger across the continent.
Beijing faces diplomatic crisis after reports of mistreatment of Africans in China spark outrage

Shi, the Chinese government’s adviser, said that some Western powers have aligned themselves with the United States by accusing China of mismanaging the epidemic – and this is a serious foreign relations problem for Beijing.

“From China’s point of view, this is closely linked to the prestige of the Chinese regime and potential stability,” he said.

As well as through the state media, China has attempted to defend its image through diplomatic envoys. Known as the “wolf warrior” diplomacy, it refers to a series of popular Chinese action films in which the country’s military conducts daring operations around the world. However, the increasingly combative tone of some Chinese diplomats has itself fueled tensions and sparked criticism.

China has also sent masks, test kits and other supplies and medical experts to countries hard hit by the pandemic – and even then, critics have questioned the motives for Beijing’s so-called “masked diplomacy”.

“Even if, after the pandemic ends, these problems will remain. They may be less emotional by then, but they will still be there,” said Shi.

“The memory (of the pandemic and its ravages) is so deep that I am afraid (the scars) will remain in the hearts of an entire generation.”

Vivian Salama, Jeremy Diamond, Kevin Liptak, Kylie Atwood and Stephen Collinson of CNN contributed to this report.


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