The Coronavirus, a catalyst for the Sino-American rivalry – La Croix

Apr 16, 2020Interviews

While Donald Trump plays the Chinese threat card to re-mobilize his electorate, Beijing is stepping up propaganda operations to make people forget the origin of the virus and heal its image in the world

Nothing is going well between the United States and China. In search of scapegoats for his belated and dysfunctional response to the crisis, Donald Trump announced Tuesday, April 14, the suspension of the United States’ contribution to the World Health Organization (WHO), due to its “Mismanagement” of the Covid-19 pandemic , questioning the complacency of the organization’s management vis-à-vis the Chinese authorities.

One way for Donald Trump to attack China, less than three weeks after silencing his criticism. In Washington, many hold the Chinese government guilty of cover-up and inaction at the start of the epidemic. “Those who misled or did not share the information properly (…), I am sure they will be held to account when the time comes” recently affirmed the head of the American diplomacy Mike Pompeo.

“China lied”

Donald Trump’s campaign team and the Republican Party are already using the theme of Chinese responsibility in the pandemic to raise funds and attack Democratic candidate Joe Biden. “China has lied and has done everything it can to cover up the spread of Covid-19 in its territory. It is absolutely shameful and we cannot stand idly by and do nothing ” affirms a message from the“ Make America Great Again ”committee, sent Tuesday, April 13, to potential donors. “President Trump has always been tough on China and he asks you to stand by his side to hold China to account for its lies. “

Joe Biden accused of “cronyism” with Beijing

Campaign officials intend to make the question of trade relations with China a major theme, to oppose the firmness of Donald Trump in the face of the Chinese “economic threat”, to the “complicity” of Joe Biden, accused of “cronyism” with Beijing, as well as his son Hunter, involved, according to a spokesperson, in a “huge contract with a Chinese state bank while his father was vice-president . 

For their part, the Chinese authorities have launched a vast propaganda operation a month ago to make people forget the Chinese origin of the virus. Diplomats, official media, as well as an army of “trolls” on social media, amplified the story of a China presented as a model of efficiency in the fight against the virus and ready to provide medical and financial aid to people. country in distress. A month later, the results are mixed. The regime’s narrative seems as much intended to flatter Chinese nationalism as to convince an international audience.

A cost-benefit analysis of alliances

Will the pandemic change the balance of power between the two great powers in the next world? “ To understand the coming post-Covid-19 world, there is one statistic to keep in mind: 330 million people live in the United States; 1.4 billion in China and about 6 billion in the rest of the world. These 6 billion live in 191 countries  answers Kishore Mahbubani, former Singapore ambassador to the UN and professor at the National University. “The leaders of these countries are going to redo their cost-benefit analysis of what the United States and China have to offer them .Feelings will play no part in this calculation. They will have to decide which country, the United States or China, will improve the living conditions of their citizens. “

Decline of American influence

In Africa, Europe and Asia, the pandemic could accelerate the decline of American influence. “China is providing what Africa needs: investment and money for governments and businesses,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame recently declared. In Italy, the former Minister of Economy and Finance Giovanni Tria described Chinese investments, within the framework of the New Silk Road, as “a train that Italy cannot afford to miss” . “Donald Trump’s erratic handling of the crisis and the lack of American leadership in coordinating a global response to the pandemic have greatly helped China,” said Joseph Nye, professor at Harvard and former deputy secretary of defense of Bill Clinton.

Increased competition between powers

Competition between the two powers is expected to intensify, as will the pressure in favor of decoupling the American and Chinese economies for certain strategic productions. “The United States still has the best cards but the question is whether they will play them well,” added Joseph Nye . “To abandon our alliances and international institutions would be a serious mistake. If Joe Biden is elected in November, we will not return to the status quo ante but American policy will change profoundly, especially in the fight against climate change. “

American advantages

For the American political scientist, at the origin of the concept of “soft power” , the United States retains several decisive advantages over China. Geography first, with a territory bordered by oceans and friendly neighbors. China shares borders with fourteen countries and has territorial disputes with India, Japan and Vietnam.

Energy, then. The shale gas boom has made the United States an energy exporter, while China depends on oil imports that pass through the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean where the United States has naval supremacy. Not to mention the demographics. Over the next decade and a half, the labor force is expected to increase by 5% in the United States while that of China will decline by 9%. Finally, America remains at the forefront in the development of advanced technologies and research.

A geopolitical space for China

“Most countries in the world want to see the United States engaged on the international scene” analyzes Kishore Mahbubani. “The ten ASEAN countries, for example, want the US presence in Southeast Asia to continue. But, like other countries, they don’t want to be caught up in a zero-sum geostrategic competition that forces them to choose between Washington and Beijing. “ With the required diplomacy, he said, the United States could find a lot of influence. “The Trump administration has objectively been a big gift for China. In three years, Donald Trump has opened up a geopolitical space from which China has taken full advantage.