26 October 2020

Monday, 05:51



World fights the COVID-19 pandemic amid the US and China showdown



While different states are trying to cope with the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic with a varying degrees of success, discussions around the post-coronary world of politics are gaining momentum. 

It is too early to say anything, but with a certain degree of certainty it can be said that some of the events taking place today will have a strong influence on the existing world order. Without a doubt, the escalated US-Chinese conflict will play a special role in this process, although it seriously impedes the much-needed consolidated actions of the world community. 


Chinese trump card 

The Sino-American relations have deteriorated sharply due to rising tensions in mutual trade, disputes over Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China's disputed territories in the South China Sea. Plus, China’s expanding global interests, threatening to squeeze the US in all directions. 

An outbreak of the coronavirus has contributed to deepening this cleave. After winning the presidential election to a large extent due to his promises to punish China for unfair trade with the United States, Donald Trump has constantly used this argument to maintain his high ratings over the past three years. However, at the beginning of this year, he suddenly discovered that the ratings crawled sharply after ignoring the problem of the spread of the coronavirus in the country, and then the inept and chaotic actions of his administration in trying to take control of the situation in the past two months. 

Trump considered the only way out of the situation the search for a scapegoat. But he did not have to search for long. Fortunately for him, the virus was born in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where a biological laboratory is located, which is also involved in the study of coronaviruses. At first, he insisted on defining the virus as a “Chinese virus” or a “Wuhan virus”, which actually thwarted the March joint communiqué of the G7 foreign ministers, which listed measures to combat the disease. 

Then, Trump stopped insisting on this, switching to assurances that he had accurate data on the leak of the virus from the laboratory, apparently to avoid accusations of inciting xenophobia. “Yes, yes, I do have this date,” Trump said when asked if he saw evidence that gave him a “high degree of certainty” that the virus had spread around the world from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In addition, he blames China for not warning the world about the risks of coronavirus and hiding many details related to the virus’s origin. 

In fact, the references of President Trump to the data acquired by the American intel services are different from the statements of these organizations, whose leaders, as well as virological scientists, argue that there is no evidence of the artificial origin of the virus or its connection with the laboratory in Wuhan. Most likely, they say, the virus was picked up by people in the wildlife market. This is also stated in the report of the Five Eyes international intelligence alliance, a group that includes the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. 

The Australian newspaper Daily Telegraph claims that it has a copy of this classified report. The intelligence community, it says, is also inclined to believe that the COVID-19 virus is artificial or genetically modified, and emphasizes the unlikelihood of its spread as a result of an accident in a laboratory in Wuhan. 


Diverting attention 

China reacted to Washington’s statements rather harshly, blaming without evidence the US military for developing the virus in their laboratories, in particular at Fort Detrick, and bringing it to China in October 2019. 

There are other variations of the Chinese verbal counteroffensive. According to one of them, due to the fact that China took the first blow of the virus, the rest of the world had time to prepare for the pandemic. But not everyone used this right. Last but not least, the United States remains the top country with the highest morbidity and mortality rates. Also, the pandemic has demonstrated to everyone who is a true world leader. While China sends humanitarian aid to everyone, the United States is not only unable to take control of the virus in its own country, but is also trying to isolate itself from everyone, even to obtain exclusive rights to medicines for it. 

Moreover, these mutual accusations are united by one feature - they are mainly designed for domestic consumers. Both Donald Trump and Xi Jinping primarily need support in their countries. Therefore, neither one nor the other is particularly worried about the veracity of the charges. 

Trump continues to blame China for not willing his re-election for the second term, because the US began to ‘receive billions’ of dollars in profit thanks to the trade deal he achieved with the Chinese government earlier. On the other hand, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, although they have absolute power, are subject to internal social pressure - especially since they, like Trump, are trying to distract the attention of society from their own mistakes. 

And both of them do pretty well. According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, 66% of Americans are negative towards China - the worst figure since the survey began in 2005. Accordingly, a negative attitude towards China materializes in support of Trump. In turn, the number of Chinese proud of their country has grown significantly in recent months. Again, it  does not matter whether all statements made by the authorities of these states are true or false. For example, information about the American military who allegedly brought the virus to China has gone viral through the popular Weibo social network in China, gaining 160 million views in just a couple of days. 


Exchange of ‘courtesies’ 

Both leaders then switched to political and economic threats. In particular, Trump said in his interview with Reuters that he was considering various options for punishing Beijing for the virus. “I can do a lot,” he said. 

He is right, actually. The US president has broad powers in the event of an international emergency, and the COVID-19 pandemic fits this perfectly. 

As the head of the US executive branch, president can to do almost anything with any property that concerns a country that poses an ‘extreme threat’ to the US. If China is declared one, then Trump may demand that banks stop paying interest or principal on any account owned by Chinese legal entities or individuals, and may freeze assets and property or even require their confiscation.

He already partially used this prerogative, freezing the assets of Venezuela last summer. In American history, this happens quite often. For example, Jimmy Carter used this law to freeze Iranian assets in 1979, and Barack Obama did the same with North Korean assets in 2016. 

Yet, the assets of neither Iran nor Venezuela can be compared to the American assets owned by China, which for example, owns $1.102 trillion of the US government bonds. Thoughtless actions, given the recession in the US economy, can lead to fatal results. 

But Washington is stubbornly demonstrating its determination to punish the guilty, claiming that it is considering options for a ‘compensation mechanism’ for the damage caused by the Chinese actions. 

The exchange of ‘courtesies’ continued, and in response to Washington's threats to refuse to fulfil debt obligations, Beijing announced plans to throw a substantial amount of the US government securities to the market. At the same time, Chinese authorities understand that this might depreciate the value of these securities, cause panic in the stock market and collapse the dollar. 

However, the matter was not limited to economic threats. According to Reuters, the Chinese Ministry of State Security has prepared a report for the country's leadership containing a warning that anti-Chinese sentiment caused by coronavirus could be an incentive to resist investment projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative. It also says that Washington, which is fuelling these sentiments, could increase financial and military support for its regional allies, which could seriously destabilize the situation in Asia. Moreover, the report concludes that China should be prepared for the armed confrontation with the US. 


Other values in the post-coronavirus world 

The ongoing conflict between the two largest countries threatens to develop into military hostilities, when the world community seriously needs their support. 

In a situation where neither the US nor China is able to lead the fight against coronavirus, and international organizations have proved ineffective, Europe attempted to take on the role of the world leader. On May 4, the EU convened a donor world-wide online conference to raise funds for creating a vaccine, diagnosing and treating coronavirus. Many large and small countries have responded to this call. Remarkably, only the US, one of the G7 countries, did not participate in the event. Mr. Trump said the US was developing a vaccine on its own. As a result, only 7.4 billion euros were collected, of which 1.4 billion were contributed by the EU. 

Admittedly, the important goals of this global alliance are to demonstrate the unity and affordability of the vaccine for people around the world. Therefore, the amount collected can be considered more like an advance payment. According to the UN estimates, at least five times more will be needed to provide people with the vaccine on a global scale. 

The time has come when small countries can become world leaders, which, instead of rattling weapons and claiming to be geostrategic, will simply demonstrate success in the fight against the virus and their willingness to help others.