The outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the world in many ways. The deadly virus has killed thousands, and has infected more than 1 million across the globe. It has also severely affected economies worldwide, including those of the United States and China.
There are several areas of disagreement between Washington and Beijing, but the COVID-19 issue has taken the bilateral tension to another level.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, there has been accusations and counter-accusations between the two major powers. The Trump administration accused China of covering up the outbreak of the infectious disease, while the Chinese government at one point blamed American soldiers, who visited Wuhan last fall, to have caused the virus.
On Feb. 25, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of allegedly suppressing information about the spread of the coronavirus. The remarks were made following the expulsion of three Wall Street journal reporters by China for criticizing Beijing’s handling of the outbreak.
Pompeo said, “Had China permitted its own – and foreign journalists and medical personnel – to speak and investigate freely, Chinese officials and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge.”
Then on March 11, the White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said: “If we’d had those [two months] and been able to sequence the virus, and had the cooperation necessary from the Chinese, had a WHO team been on the ground, had a CDC team, which we’d offered, been on the ground, I think we could have dramatically curtailed what happened both in China and what’s now happening across the world.”
The bilateral relations deteriorated further when President Donald Trump himself openly used the term “Chinese virus” and defended this by saying that it came from China. The use of “Chinese virus” by the president and his associates contributed to several instances of Asian-Americans being targeted verbally and physically over virus fears.
Indeed, the U.S. accusations and allegations against China have some truth in them. A whistleblower Chinese doctor, Li Wenliang, was detained by police in Wuhan Jan. 3 for “spreading false rumors” when he warned colleagues on social media in late December about the spread of a mysterious virus that would go on to become the coronavirus pandemic. Li was forced to sign a document to admit that he had breached the law and had “seriously disrupted social order.”
The doctor was infected during the fight against the outbreak and died Feb. 7. His death led to a widespread outrage and frustration across China over the initial cover-up of the virus by the authorities.
Since the death of Wenliang, who was officially exonerated posthumously of the charges against him, the Chinese government has taken several initiatives and measures to tackle the virus, domestically as well as in helping other countries by providing expertise and supplying equipment.
After weeks of rising tension between the two greatest economic powers, bilateral ties have seen a positive change in recent days. The U.S., which now has the highest number of confirmed cases in the world, is in need of China’s assistance in its fight against the disease.
The thaw in tension came following a phone conversation between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping March 27. The two leaders agreed to set aside their differences and pledged to cooperate in the fight against the pandemic.
Trump tweeted that: “China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!”
Subsequently, the status of China has apparently changed from being the accused to the rescuer. The U.S. has become one of the most recent recipients of Chinese aid in the fight against the pandemic. On March 29, Washington received 80 tons of gloves, masks, gowns and other medical supplies.
According to Lizzie Litzow, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the shipment included 130,000 N95 masks, 1.8 million face masks and gowns, 10 million gloves and thousands of thermometers for distribution in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. China is expected to continue providing more assistance in the coming days and weeks.
Not only the Trump administration officials but Chinese Americans and Chinese citizens themselves have played important role in the rapprochement between the two rival powers.
The committee of 100, a leadership organization of Americans of Chinese descent called Himalaya Capital Management, has raised $1 million to purchase medical supplies and protective gear from around the world to bring to the United States, according to a New York Times report.
Since January, the organization, has also helped in providing more than $1.4 million of medical supplies from around the world to China. The Chinese billionaire and co-founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, is also reportedly funneling one million masks and 500,000 test kits to the United States.
Had these steps been taken sooner by leaders of both countries, many positive cases could have been prevented. More importantly, many deaths could have potentially been prevented or reduced.
As the saying goes, it is better late than never. These initiatives, and others yet to come, can still prevent or contain the spread of the deadly virus, and can eventually lead to the production or availability of medicine that can be used to treat or cure the disease.
The metamorphosis of China from being an accused to a rescuer is a win-win situation not only for the Americans and the Chinese but a positive and promising development for the world and humanity.
It is time for countries, governments, organizations, communities and individuals around the world to come together, irrespective of politics, ideology, nationality, race or ethnic differences, against the pandemic.
As the song goes, “We shall overcome someday” but the world must unite against the virus.
Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen is a political scientist, associate professor, assistant dean and executive director at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of NET.