The President of the United States, Donald Trump, has maintained an unequivocal position on China and the coronavirus COVID-19, well, several.
At first he praised China, but then criticized Beijing after making unsubstantiated allegations that the virus had originated in the United States. Now, Trump has once again offered his kindest face.
These divergent messages have generated signals from both Beijing and Washington that further destabilize the critical relationship between two nations with the world’s largest economies and armies.RELATED
The US-China policy may not undergo radical changes in the coming months, but the Chinese cover-up and disinformation campaign will influence the relationship going forward, Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said on Wednesday.
“It is very difficult to see progress in trade talks after this,” he said, adding that he hopes Congress will push to address the US dependence on China for medical supplies, among others.
There are calls in Congress to hold China accountable for initially covering up the outbreak. Anticipating a possible backlash, China’s official news agency Xinhua suggested last month that Beijing could retaliate against Washington for banning the export of medical products that would have left the United States stranded in the “ocean of viruses.”
At the start of the outbreak, Trump praised China for its response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. On January 24, he tweeted that the United States appreciated Beijing’s efforts and “transparency”, although local authorities initially covered up the growing number of cases in Wuhan, the city in which it first appeared in December. In February, as the pandemic spread to Europe, Trump continued to refuse to blame China.
But then Trump began chasing Beijing, repeatedly referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.” He said he was upset that some authorities in the country had suggested, without evidence, that the US military transported the virus to Wuhan or that it was released from a US laboratory.
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, wrote on Twitter on March 12: “It could be the US military. the one that brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make your data public! The US owes us an explanation! ”
Other American officials followed suit. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named the “Wuhan virus” six times at a department briefing and rebuked the Communist Party for not allowing US medical experts to enter the country, for expelling Western journalists, and for stemming the flow. of information.
The White House National Security Council also accused the Communist Party of launching disinformation campaigns worldwide and of retaliating against Chinese citizens who wanted to speak to the population about the coronavirus.
Trump claimed that China was trying to blame the United States for distracting the world from the deficiency of its own response to the crisis.
“This could have stopped dead,” Trump said March 19 at a meeting of the coronavirus task force at the White House. “Unfortunately, (Chinese officials) did not decide to go public. But everyone is suffering from that. “
Trump abruptly stopped referring to the “Chinese virus” after the Beijing ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, seemed to move away from Zhao’s position, calling the theory “crazy” and noting that diplomats should not speculate.
Now, the president has again praised his counterpart, Xi Jinping.
“We have a great trade agreement and we would like to keep it. They will want to keep it and the relationship is good, “said the leader on Wednesday. Trump insisted that some of the COVID-19 case figures in China seem a little “low,” but insisted that his relationship with Xi was still “really good.”
In most patients, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that disappear within two to three weeks. But in others, especially in the elderly and people with previous pathologies, it can cause more serious diseases, such as pneumonia, and even death. At least 930,000 people have contracted the disease, and more than 45,000 have died worldwide.
Ray Yip, a U.S. public health official who founded the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office in China in 2003, said teams of experts sent by the central government to Wuhan did not initially realize that the virus could be transmitted between humans, exacerbating the consequences.
Once Beijing understood the scope of the problem, it acted decisively, he said. Chinese authorities informed the World Health Organization (WHO) about the new virus on December 31. On January 12, Chinese scientists had sequenced the genetic makeup of the virus and shared it with the WHO, which praised its transparency and speed.
Yip noted that Washington’s response to the pandemic was considerably worse than that of China.
“If we had begun to respond vigorously, appropriately, by tracking cases and isolating them, it would not have spread,” Yip said. “We let a fire that was small at first spread, and now that it’s too big we have trouble putting it out. If there is a public health malpractice complaint, it has to be that way.”
Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago who researches Chinese governance and has closely followed the pandemic, also points out to Chinese local authorities that, in early January, they were preparing for “two sessions,” an event annual for local and provincial officials.
They did not want to disturb Beijing or spread panic in the streets before the important appointments on January 11-17, so they suppressed information on the outbreak.
Before and during the “two sessions,” the China National Health Commission dispatched three expert teams to Wuhan. The first two had trouble obtaining information from local medical authorities, especially about whether the virus was transmitted from person to person, Yang explained. Experts were reportedly closely watched and unable to speak to emergency doctors or visit infectious disease sections.
Local authorities punished Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist who shared information about the local transmission of the coronavirus, which later killed him. When Dr. Ai Fen, director of emergencies at Wuhan Central Hospital, said the virus spread from human to human, she was reprimanded for spreading rumors and causing panic, Yang added.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, pointed out that Beijing often blames local authorities for mistakes by the central government.
“They keep hiding,” said Blumenthal. “Any discussion of COVID-19 in social media applications is blocked and censored (…) They are pursuing even more, censoring even more. They are imprisoning people who are trying to tell us the truth. “