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May 3, 2020

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

The Hidden Lessons Amid the Outbreak

Kimberley Nunez-Argueta

Our international system has encountered a harsh reality that has impacted the global population. The pandemic caused much distress to the global economy and healthcare system, leaving each country scrambling for resources in efforts to flatten the curve on the coronavirus, COVID-19. Globally, there are more than 1.2 million coronavirus cases and over 70,000 deaths. As a result, countries have resorted to nationwide lockdowns and abrupt border closures. There is no doubt that the pandemic has prompted each country to evaluate whether their governance has the capability to withstand a drastic disruption to their routine. Therefore, as every nation struggles to grapple with the continual spread of the virus and we all attempt to fathom the new “normal,” the pandemic has become an opportunity for the United States and China to politicize the situation for their own advantage. However, as tensions rise between the United States and China during this pandemic, both nations fail to realize the importance of their cooperation during these pressing times that may eventually benefit the two, along with others.

Currently, the United States and China lead with the most reported coronavirus cases of more than 83,000 and 81,000 cases respectively. As some claim that China is falsely reporting their numbers to appear as if they are controlling the spread efficiently, the Trump administration struggles to find effective policies that can prove to the international community the capability of the United States to adapt to the economic and political costs COVID-19 has created. The challenges of the pandemic led the United States and China to engage in a “blame game” where the two have accused each other for the spread of the virus. It was expected for the United States and China to undergo an international showdown, attempting to prove to others which nation can better respond to the economic, social, and political challenges the pandemic has caused. Both countries foster hateful rhetoric towards each other to belittle their policy approaches and label their actions as far from effective. The Trump administration has escalated the blame game by calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” However, this showdown only demonstrates the inability of both sides to tackle the pandemic efficiently and attempt to mask their missteps.

Ultimately, along with other nations, the two global superpowers also struggle to find innovative solutions that will slow the spread of the virus and maintain economic stability. As medical supplies remain scarce and the international economy cripples, the United States and China compete for resources as the pandemic has unfortunately revealed the fragility in our medical healthcare system. In the last few months, we have seen more countries struggle to adapt to this pandemic, including powerful countries like the United States and China.

Due to critical shortages of resources, it has become a race for medical supplies as well as an opportunity for those to assist others who are not prepared to combat the virus in an attempt to expand their influence, as demonstrated by China. The United States was late to respond to the pandemic, as a result the United States has taken little leadership in helping other countries who struggle to obtain medical supplies while China has been able to provide for others. The increase in U.S. coronavirus cases, Trump’s late response to a dire need of a lockdown, and the shortage of test kits give China the passage to become the leading helping hand for others. In early March, Italy called on EU countries to provide medical equipment as medical shortages increased and the country struggled to contain the virus with over 69,000 cases. Italy, along with other European countries such as Spain, France, Greece, and the Czech Republic, were challenged with a spike of coronavirus cases. Coming to their aid, China sent “masks, gloves, ventilators, and medical experts” to these countries to help contain the outbreak. Despite China’s own struggle to contain the virus, it has proven itself to have the capacity to assist others by donating needed medical equipment, thereby surpassing the United States in leading the global response to the coronavirus.

China’s rapid response to aid countries affected by the outbreak portrays the incapability of the United States to provide for others as the Trump Administration demonstrated its struggle to contain the pandemic on U.S. soil. President Trump failed to respond to the situation properly by delaying quarantine protocols after the virus has greatly affected the American public. Although President Trump enacted a travel ban to prevent the spread of the virus, the ban further exacerbated the issue by overwhelming airports with many Americans fearfully attempting to re-enter the United States, violating CDC guidelines for social distancing. It has come to the point where China is aiding the United States because of their shortcomings. Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma, donated 500,000 coronavirus testing kits and one million face masks to the United States. Even though both countries have been drastically affected by the pandemic, China is presenting to the global community its ability to adapt to the new circumstances, far more than the United States.

Unfortunately, the current media and our global leaders have unintentionally deepened the tensions between the United States and China — pressuring President Donald Trump and Xi Jinping to continue their international showdown rather than allocating their attention to promote cooperation between the two. Not only has this pandemic demonstrated our failing international healthcare system, but also the limits of globalization and inability to support an interdependent market as countries are hit by the COVID-19 outbreak. Therefore, globalization has shown us that we are very economically interdependent among each other, the only alternative to defeat this virus is if the global community supports one another to minimize the drawbacks the pandemic has caused to each nation. Being the two largest economies, the United States and China must cooperate with one another to create an effective global response for the pandemic. De-escalation must occur for both countries to improve their missteps within their own province and for the global community.

If the United States and China develop bi-lateral cooperation, they will be able to speed the development of a COVID-19 vaccine and distribute vital medical equipment. But most importantly, our international health care system is not able to support the growing demand for medical equipment — cooperation can relieve this issue. The spirit of cooperation does not seem impossible to achieve during a global health crisis since it has been done before. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, the United States and China prompted a joint response by creating the “Ten Core Principles” of the global pandemic, which was supported by 88 nations and agencies. Although cooperation is possible, questions still linger whether or not the United States has the capacity to contribute to the global fight against the virus if the Trump administration struggles to create effective policies that will flatten the curve. Similarly, this is the case for China as well. Can China’s increasingly authoritarian government cooperate with President Trump?

There are lessons to be learned from this pandemic, but do China and the United States have the ability to look past their differences amid the outbreak? Despite the sense of distress to the international order, improvements are yet to come from either the United States or China. Perhaps others will lead first to set an example.

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