Bryan Carapucci | May 4, 2020
Responding To: The U.S.-China Relationship Under Stress
Virus and a Media War: Exposure to Uncontrolled Malice
While the direction for the U.S.-China relationship is still unclear under the trade war, the sudden hit of COVID-19 puts even more uncertainty in this complex relationship. Amidst deep structural problems from economics to ideology, the media war has driven U.S.-China relations into an even worse situation. It’s sad but also the truth that the virus exposed more deep-rooted enmity and conflicts.
With China gradually controlling the virus and the number of cases in the United States increasing, one of the most concerning points is whether China will take America’s place as leader in the world fighting against the coronavirus. Some worry that China, after going through its worst period, is trying to expand its control and influence by sending medical resources to countries such as Serbia and Italy, which constitutes a threat to America’s leadership. As China indeed is becoming more influential than before during this particular period, it is unlikely that China will replace the United States in leading the world after the pandemic. Nevertheless, China and the United States will likely fight over control and rule-making of an international prevention system against possible epidemics in the future.
While the United States considers the behavior as a disclosure of China’s ambition, Chinese media also shows China’s worries that without a great deal of publicity of its positive image, the U.S. media will particularly emphasize and amplify China’s mistakes such as the cover-up of the coronavirus in the early stage, causing China’s voice and influence in the international world to weaken. No matter how each side differs on the interpretation, the argument certainly exposes deep-lying distrust and enmity through how each one perceives the other.
What’s worse, some media reports and officials from both sides somehow tend to interpret events through a highly political filter, usually focusing more on the remedial measures and positive actions of its own country and the mistakes and negative consequences caused by the other. China’s media mainly reports how the Chinese government quickly took action, effectively organized the whole country to tackle the disease, and properly removed the irresponsible officials for the cover-up, in comparison with how slow and unorganized the United States reacted to the pandemic. In contrast, James Richardson accused China’s help to other countries as conditional, which is in accord with the view that China is taking advantage of the pandemic to expand its power, while similar assistance from the United States is explained as a kind and generous gesture and demonstration of leadership.
The political bias has becomes so strong that in some remarks, objective thinking is completely lost, and words become only a tool of promoting uncontrolled malice and hatred. Along with the “Chinese virus” and “Wuhan virus” remarks made by Trump and Mike Pompeo, conspiracy theories by Lijian Zhao and Tom Cotton have also attracted huge attention, although they are taken more as a sign of attitude rather than a genuine suspicion. However, even though China acknowledged how political concern got in the way with quick and early reports to superior officials, the Trump Administration also failed to respond in time with a politically negative attitude towards the virus outbreak in China. Both countries still let political hostility prevent them from systematized cooperation, driving some American doctors to seek information from Chinese colleagues on their own, contrasting high-level conflicts and public cooperation.
The lack of collaboration and help is not only unfavorable for the United States and China but also for other countries, especially the ones hit hard by the disease and those without enough medical supplies and facilities. If the two countries continue to let political battles grab their attention, a second wave of the virus might slip by their attention before they notice it, and the economy will also be dragged by a global recession, which could be prevented with better cooperation. In fact, without negotiated and pre-arranged regulations, naturally, a country would only help itself if its interests clash with others in an emergency situation, and this is why cooperation is necessary.
Indeed, the picture of American and Chinese officials actively building a friendly connection is currently unrealistic, but trying to stop the media war and ease tension on critical issues such as sharing medical information is needed. If the U.S.-China relationship deteriorating, the worsened relations and COVID-19’s aftermath will add even more difficulties to the unfinished trade talks.
The pre-sale of the English-version of Wuhan Diary by Fang Fang on April 10th, 2020 set off a new wave of anger on Weibo, causing the likelihood for improvement in U.S.-China relations to become even less likely. Sometimes the improvement of a relationship needs a common enemy, like in the 1970s when the Soviet Union contributed to the improvement of relations between the United States and China. However the coronavirus is still not qualified to be the new foe that forces the two countries to put aside their disputes. However, if a worse catastrophe really attacks the common and essential interests of the United States and China one day, the opportunity to cooperate to stop a disaster might be long gone.
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