The coronavirus can do much more to unravel U.S.-Chinese ties than commerce wars, technology threats and presidential tweets ever
Both countries’ relationship under pressure in recent decades — is on the verge of imploding as both sides seek to assign blame
for the virus’ origin and swap tit-for-tat recriminations on other fronts, such as expelling journalists.
The fallout from the international pandemic threatens the new U.S.-Chinese trade bargain and may endanger future global stability
given the importance of both countries to global trade.
Beyond trade, the virus’ spread could even lead to more long-term shifts in how the U.S. and China are perceived. China, which has
lasted to shore up its military power in the face of longstanding U.S. supremacy, has now begun supplying aid to other nations
crippled by the virus as a means to showcase its global leadership amid a slow, limited U.S. response.
“I cannot think of a more dangerous time in the U.S.-China connection in the previous 40 decades, and the carnage in the
coronavirus has barely begun in the U.S.,” China analyst Bill Bishop wrote this week in his widely read Sinocism newsletter.
International trade versus global health
The first stage of the trade deal that the two sides agreed to in December eases, but does not fully eliminate, the tariffs
President Donald Trump put into place and has China agreeing to purchase some $200 billion more in U.S. goods and services over
the next couple of years.
China appears to be meeting some of the deal’s deadlines for now, however there are worries that, given the damage the virus —
and the trade war — has achieved to its economy, it might not have the ability to buy all of the U.S. goods as quickly as it had
promised. The virus’ impact on U.S. companies, meanwhile, could dampen some businesses’ ability to offer the goods and solutions
China might need.
Despite pressure from U.S. businesses, Trump said Wednesday he would not be suspending tariffs that remain, even though the
government has exempted certain medical equipment in the export penalties.
When asked whether he would lift more the penalties, Trump said,”China is spending billions and billions of dollars in tariffs,
and there is no reason to do this,” reiterating his erroneous assertion that China, not U.S. businesses and consumers, pays the
tariffs. “They haven’t even spoken to me personally. China has never asked me to do that.”
The response and rhetoric surrounding the pandemic is currently throwing into question if the two sides will enter into a second
phase of discussions to tackle some of the more systemic problems that have plagued the U.S.-China commerce relationship.
White House trade advisor Peter Navarro has been directing the effort, which might attempt to reduce reliance on China for vital
drug ingredients and provides for example masks and gloves.
“The problem we’re facing is that any moment we have a public health crisis, people wake up to the intense foreign dependency that
we’ve got,” he explained. “And after the emergency is over, they promptly go back to sleep”
Steve Bannon, a former chief strategist in Trump’s White House that has long warned about the risks posed by a rising China, said
any goodwill built up because of reaching the initial trade deal has become moot. He blamed Beijing’s early activities — when it
was accused of trying to cover up the catastrophe and resisting outside help — for”metastasizing” the pandemic.
“Today you can see they’re on a propaganda offensive to blame this on the West, especially the USA, and it is likely to lead to
some further confrontation.
Escalating rhetoric can interfere with coordinated response
Since the virus started to spread officials on both sides have employed websites and other platforms to attack each other.
Trump, for example, has taken to calling the coronavirus that the”Chinese virus,” a word critics state is racist and xenophobic.
He says Beijing’s ruling Communist Party has left him no choice but to do this since Chinese officials are floating conspiracy
theories that the COVID-19 illness began from the U.S. or has been planted in China by the U.S. army.
“I must call it came from; it did come in China,” Trump said Tuesday when asked about his use of this”Chinese virus” tag.
“Therefore I think that it’s a really accurate expression.” He continued:”I didn’t appreciate the reality that China was saying
that our army gave them”
Scientists believe the virus was first spotted in China’s Hubei province, where the town of Wuhan was an epicenter. But since
China has, through quarantines and other actions, emerged to bring the virus under control, it’s gone about trying to fudge this
A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Lijian Zhao, was particularly brash, using Twitter — a platform prohibited for many
Chinese — to discuss articles and raise questions regarding whether the U.S. has been the origin of the disease.
“It could be US army who brought the outbreak to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your own data! US owe us an excuse ” Zhao
tweeted on March 12.
Reciprocal activity versus alliance
The Washington-Beijing clash is going well beyond just rhetoric.
China reported that it is expelling American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The
Washington Post. It also announced new constraints on many U.S.-based outlets including Voice of America.
American reporters have been in covering the coronavirus epidemic in China, as well as some other issues deemed sensitive there.