How they see us: China steps up as U.S. steps back
In times of international crisis, the world used to be able to look to the U.S. for leadership, said Matthew Fisher in Canada’s GlobalNews.ca. But as the coronavirus pandemic rages, U.S. President Donald Trump has made clear that he’d rather build a wall around America than cooperate with any other country. Trump first treated the outbreak as a hoax, then declared a national emergency and barred most Europeans from flying to the U.S.; America’s European allies were given no notice of the ban. And instead of expressing sympathy for the Italians, French, and Britons dying of the illness, Trump boasted that if Europe had implemented a similarly tough travel ban “it would not have replaced China as the new epicenter for the disease.” No one has stepped up to fill the leadership void. Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the crisis to launch an oil-price war with Saudi Arabia, hoping to “depress the price of oil enough that the U.S. fracking business goes bankrupt.” Chinese President Xi Jinping “has behaved no better.” He initially hid the virus from his citizens and the world, allowing it to spread like wildfire. Yet Xi now claims that China’s authoritarian system saved the planet, because it was able to enforce a quarantine on tens of millions of people.
Actually, Beijing’s response to this calamity “is giving hope to humanity,” said Peter Kagwanja in the Daily Nation (Kenya). After rising “from the ashes of Covid-19 like the proverbial phoenix,” China is now using “its spectacular success in rolling back the virus to project its soft power globally.” Xi has pledged $20 million to help the World Health Organization improve public health systems in poor countries, and is sending doctors and medical equipment to hard-hit Italy. Contrast this generosity with the selfishness of President Trump, who tried to cut funding for international pandemic prevention efforts and who weeks ago “portrayed the outbreak as good for America”—claiming it would make Americans spend their dollars at home rather than abroad.
What we need now is an “internationally coordinated medical project, equivalent to the wartime Manhattan Project,” that can mobilize global resources in the hunt for a vaccine and a cure, said former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in The Guardian (U.K.). “An ideology of ‘everyone for himself’ will not work when the health of each of us depends so unavoidably on the health of all of us.” That would require China and the U.S. to end their “belligerent superpower wrangling,” said Shi Jiangtao in the Hong Kong–based South China Morning Post (China). Beijing is furious that the U.S. quickly imposed a travel ban on China, and it’s now floating rumors that the virus originated in America, not China. Meanwhile, the U.S. is moving against China on all fronts: Its import tariffs remain in place; American allies are being pressured to boycott Chinese telecom giant Huawei; and the U.S. Navy is increasing its maneuvers in the South China Sea. Given such “soaring antagonism and a widening trust deficit,” it’s unlikely that Beijing and Washington will find a way to cooperate—even to combat a global pandemic. ■