China-US relations infected by coronavirus

Xi Jinping, left, and Donald Trump.
Xi Jinping, left, and Donald Trump.
Image: REUTERS

Relations between China and the US  were already difficult before the coronavirus pandemic appeared in January.

The outbreak made things even worse between the two countries, and that represents a colossal failure of top leadership in both countries.

The outbreak of the pandemic illustrates both the strengths and weaknesses of China.

As we may know,  media in China is censored, which made it difficult for the country to exchange international information.  This allowed the pandemic to develop.

It is without any doubt that China launched a propaganda campaign to promote the theme of its citizens’ behaviour during the country’s lockdown period.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson admitted that the virus originated in Wuhan, with the US military, the Chinese and many others believing this.

The Trump administration has been fumbling in responding to the crisis, and that aided China.

Beyond this pandemic lies how the US is likely to respond to China. 

It is safe to say that Donald Trump’s focus on great power competition and the trade war has provided a wake-up call in both countries.

The matter between the two nations has been handled clumsily  by the Trump administration.

However, it must be said that the Trump administration was correct to punish China for cybertheft of intellectual property, coerced intellectual property transfer and unfair trade practices, such as subsidised credit to state-owned enterprises. 

For example, if China can ban Google and Facebook, the US can do the same with ZTE or Huawei.

However, Trump’s  strategy is inadequate. That is because the information revolution and globalisation are changing global politics.

The US might prevail over China through military mighty, but it is worth noting  that America cannot protect its security acting alone.

While the pandemic might cause economic setbacks, and decoupling caused by the trade war between the two nations, environmental globalisation is continuing to increase.

The two have co-operated despite ideological differences since the time of President Richard Nixon.

Looking at Asia, I would point out that Asian economic growth has encouraged a horizontal power shift to the region.

With that being said, Chinese power in the region is balanced by Japan, India and Australia, among others.

None of these nations, however, want to be dominated by China.

We can therefore argue that Washington holds high cards in the traditional power competition.

The pandemic sets the scene for a test between the two nations. 

First, both nations should start to de-escalate propaganda wars.

Second, we should realise that if the 1918 flu pandemic was a precedent, we will definitely see future waves of Covid-19 after the first wave tapers, and both nations should be prepared to co-operate.

Third, the new waves of the pandemic will affect poorer states more, and developing countries needs will hurt the US. 

The Washington policy of engagement towards Beijing has been embraced for decades in the US, with few bumpy rides along the way.

The approach by Washington towards China came into existence after 1972, when Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, went to Beijing. 

The globe is watching attentively once again as both nations go head to head.

At some point, both nations were drawing closer to working together, now they’re tearing themselves away from each other — as a result of politics and the impact of the pandemic globally.

President Xi Jinping represents rigid ideology and Trump nationalism.


As the pandemic spreads all across the globe, both nations are moving further and further apart.

In 2012, Xi, replaced his predecessor’s slogan, “Peace Rise”, with his more belligerent “China Dream” and “China Rejuvenation”.

The dream of Xi laid out a grand vision for China. 

According to researchers, China’s new vision introduced by Xi is more aggressive,  which has produced a host of reckless policies.

The biggest victim of the Covid-19 pandemic is the fiction of amicable US-China relations

Now that the two nations are at each other’s throats, it looks difficult to salvage old working ties.

If the US loses this Cold War, it would be a grievous blow to global transparency and the liberal order.

On the other hand, it would also threaten the country’s power and influence abroad.

The latest talks between China and the US paved the  way for  trade agreements to be considered and elites from both nations wanted a  return to some normalcy.

All those engagements were swept away by the coronavirus crisis.

*Zamuxolo Nduna is CEO of the Ubomi Foundation.

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