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May 3, 2020

Responding To: The U.S.-China Relationship Under Stress

Blame Game is not the Cure, but the Poison

Ruihan Huang

On March 25, 2020, the day just before Chicago closed down the lakefront and its adjacent parks, my Japanese friend Aki invited me to walk along the lake with him to celebrate the end of our winter quarter. On that day, he was a little nervous and I asked him why. “One of my Japanese friends went to the northern part of Chicago yesterday.” Aki said, “he was mistaken for a Chinese and shouted at by an American guy ‘go back to China!’, and thus I hope our Asian students should be cautious and stay safe during this tough time.”

Aki is a super friendly and open-minded guy and is always willing to make new friends from different countries. His anxiety is by no means groundless. Since the outbreak of coronavirus in January, the discrimination against Asians, including both Asian foreigners and Asian Americans, became severe and pervasive. According to a report by a tech startup, the coronavirus outbreak has led to a 900% uptick in hate speech toward China and Chinese people on Twitter. That President Donald Trump posted a tweet using the phrase “Chinese Virus” on March 16, 2020 and repeated this controversial usage many times in formal or informal settings made Asians’ situation even worse. As the New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, this tweet could put more Asian Americans in danger. This is true. Even for the prestigious Asian Americans like Andrew Yang, a very popular Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential election, he also felt “self-conscious – even a bit ashamed – of being Asian” for the first time in years because of his unpleasant shopping experience during the pandemic.

At the same time, in response to attacks by Americans, some Chinese netizens also heavily laugh at U.S. citizens’ unfortunate experiences and even spread some ridiculous conspiracy theories across the internet. Even a few extremists posted messages on Weibo hoping that the death tolls could dramatically increase in the United States. Besides, Chinese oversea students are also blamed by some Chinese netizens for purposely bringing coronavirus back to China and worshipping all things foreign, even though many overseas students donated lots of medical resources during the outbreak in Wuhan.

I know that hate is not the real attitude of most citizens in the two countries. I still clearly remember my Amtrak trip to Seattle last December. My friend and I were the only two Chinese passengers on that train. Every American person we met was super friendly to us and always willing to have dinner and chat with us. Even one gentleman was very excited to tell us his family maintained a good relationship with Chinese people, because his grandfather went to China in the early 1900s and contributed to the foundation of West China Union University, which today is the well-known West China Center of Medical Sciences. Also, when I left for the United States last August, some of my Chinese friends who studied in the United States before requested me to help them deliver some gifts to their American friends. Besides my own experiences, there are also many precious memories shared by both Chinese and American people in combating climate change, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, energy insecurity, etc. Even during this hardship, many American enterprises, chambers of Commerce, and people from all walks of life donated about 1.15 billion yuan in cash and various medical resources worth 400 million yuan to China. What’s more, Chinese enterprises such as Alibaba and even Huawei also donated huge amounts of medical resources to many states at risk, such as New York and California.

Combatting coronavirus should have been a valuable opportunity for the United States and China to cooperate together to help the global community get out of trouble, and allow them to ease their intensifying disputes and contradictions from recent years. Thus, it is very hard to imagine that U.S.-China relations could deteriorate to today’s status. The blame game undoubtedly plays an important role. In order to distract citizens’ attention from its own shortcomings when controlling and preventing the spread of coronavirus and to avoid blame, the government is keen to pass the buck and try to shift the focus away from its own mistakes. However, while it is easy to criticize the other, the government cannot shirk its responsibility for missing the window to catch the disease and prevent and control the spread of the virus, resulting in a huge amount of deaths within a very short period of time. What’s more, criticizing the other and triggering citizens’ anger would definitely worsen bilateral relations, because U.S.-China relations are not merely the relationship between two governments, but the close tie between people and positive interactions from one society to another. A hostile messaging war between the United States and China on social media seeking to deflect blame and stir up residents’ anxiety, anger, and hate toward another country’s residents can leave bad images of one to the other, and only contribute to the obstacles in future cooperation, but not help the prevention and control of the virus at all.

Hopefully, opportunities still do exist. As the Liebig's law shows, the end of the global epidemic crisis does not depend on the country with the strongest prevention and control ability, but on the country with the weakest prevention and control ability. Africa is the weakest part. According to World Health Organization (WHO), since many African countries’ health care systems are ill-equipped to treat patients without support from international organizations and lack resources to teach citizens what precautions they should take to stave off the virus, the African continent could see 10 million cases of coronavirus within the next six months. Therefore, in order to combat the virus successfully, the United States. and China should work closely to get African countries and citizens out of the crisis by providing necessary resources. At the same time, as two countries with strong technological power, the United States and China should also encourage free exchanges of technology and information between scholars around the world, so as to successfully develop effective cure methods and vaccine.

Although U.S.-China relations have faced many tests in recent years, the challenges brought by the COVID-19 crisis are the real big exam. Which results would we really hope to get? A common victory of mankind over disasters or a global community verging on war?

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