By Chan Kung*
The “New Cold War” is officially a real threat. While China is beginning to see results in its domestic Covi-19 pandemic prevention efforts, the United States remains in the thick of the crisis. Due to the issues and challenges presented by the pandemic to China as well as the stigma associated with it, the concept of a “New Cold War” has been given a whole new meaning in the world political arena, and in the United States as well. Behind this geopolitical and geo-economic driven logic lies China’s possibility of an inevitable and total decoupling from a U.S-dominated western world.
The current situation is delicately threatening and everchanging. On one hand, China has taken on a hardened, no-nonsense attitude towards any stigma surrounding the virus and on the other, the United States is currently at a “delicate Pearl Harbor moment” as a result of the pandemic. Recent comments from China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson have fueled a strong public backlash in China, resulting in a highly publicized anti-American attitude that is out of line with the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Jerome Adams, a top U.S. health official, warned Americans on April 5 that the United States will face an alarming death toll resulting from the novel coronavirus in the coming week as the pandemic continues to ravage the country. “This is going to be the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” Jerome Adams told Fox News Sunday. “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country.”
Based on one of our tracking research conducted on the pandemic in the United States back in March, we conclude that the country will face its toughest time come late April to early May. Of course, this doesn’t say anything less about the challenges or chaos that the country is facing now. Thus far, the country has been grappling with the issue of whether to wear a mask for the past two months. Meanwhile, a large outbreak was reported to have broken out on an aircraft carrier, leading the captain to getting fired. Then, we see state governments acting blindly and the federal government’s authority over the outbreak significantly reduced.
Furthermore, there is a severe shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE) among many other things, and complaints and criticism from doctors and nurses are rising in the country; Lastly, the number of confirmed cases in the United States has exceeded the 300,000 mark, making it the world’s top country with the most number of cases confirmed. Criticism regarding the incompetence of the Trump administration has begun to surface, to the point where Donald Trump is accused of having “American blood on his hands.” None of these problems, however, can rival the difficult moments that will happen in late April to early May. When the time comes, all Americans’ patience would be put to the test and stretched to the max, and a degree of supply problems previously unseen even during World War II, would emerge in the American society too.
In such times, how should China tackle such issues? Should China, as member of the global society remain on the sidelines and blindly allow its emotions to dictate the flow of events, or does it uphold the role of as a responsible great power in accordance to the international standards set? Perhaps the answer to that is to make strategic and critical choices.
It is important for us to look at certain things objectively. Prior to the United States’ decision to suspend flights between China and the country, it had already accepted 430,000 passengers worldwide, including that of 40,000 travelers from China. When these people entered the country, each of them possessed a record and a signature in hand. This means that unlike China, the United States is suffering from a typical case of imported outbreak. Under such circumstances, how China chooses to respond to the matter on hand, be it to react unreasonably and emotionally or to adopt major strategic support measures and do its utmost in assisting the rest of the world, the United States included, is a strategic choice that will no doubt determine China’s future position in the world and perhaps even its future fate.
To date, fussing about questions like “where did the virus originate” and “what is its name” are unimportant. China’s current problems are the major political challenges it has received from the world, which is far worse compared to a simple matter of stigma. And to solve its problem of major political challenges, the country must focus on reinventing its overall image on an international level.
Now that the world media has its eyes on the United States for being the epicenter of the outbreak, specifically New York which has long symbolized prosperity, all miscellaneous television programs have been cancelled and replaced with full coverage on the virus. Everything ranging from Wall Street, the stock market, the streets, to the people’s joys and sorrows, these are all closely tied to the pandemic. And unfortunately, thousands of Americans have no choice but to isolate themselves, stay in, stare at the tv screen and watch anxiously and helplessly as the number of confirmed cases constantly changes. While all that plays out, what China needs to do now is to put on its thinking caps and show the rest of the world, especially the United States, the compassion and responsibility a big country like itself can afford to show. Provide aids such as masks, ventilators, and protective clothing to the needy Americans as they struggle in this “Pearl Harbor moment”.
Would it be difficult to realize such policies? Maybe. The goal of the federal government and state government in the United States are not unanimous as we speak. The state government wants to solve the problems caused by the pandemic. On the other hand, the federal government and other politicians have geopolitical concerns. That said, there are still numerous ways China can aid to the cause, as it is impossible for the United States to refuse aid at the time being. To reiterate our suggestions once more, the aid should come in the form of masks, protective clothing, goggles and ventilators, not medicine. Los Angeles, New York, Florida, Maryland and Boston, many states are in the middle of a severe PPE shortage, and many hospitals are coming under heavy fire for the lack of sufficient PPE for doctors and nurses. Hospitals in the U.S. have had to centralize the distribution of masks and PPE, sometimes even being forced to put up with a complete lack of supplies. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the state government are now raising awareness of wearing one’s mask while going out, though Trump is the only one who still insists against it. America has a population of 300 million, and all masks need to be replaced regularly in accordance to the health standards, which means the supply of masks in the country must be more than enough. Thus, many tv programs and videos in the United States are now teaching people how to make makeshift masks themselves, and even use scarves to replace masks.
This is where China’s opportunity to lend a helping hand comes in. At such times, the entire world including the United States, Europe, and the United Kingdom, all require China’s assistance. The United Kingdom too is going through a tough time, as supplies are tight, so much so that one is not even allowed to purchase liquor in the supermarket. On top of that, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has become the first among the world’s top leaders to contract Covid-19 and in intensive care. This is a time for China to step up as a responsible world power speak the international language, and to provide international aid. China needs to show compassion, only then can it receive the same compassion, support, empathy and praise in return. Now is certainly not the time to politicize things. When a country in the world is facing a tough time, it will certainly need the care of others. It takes little for one to be grateful during such tough times but that can only happen when one does the right thing, and that is to remain as rational and as humanitarian as possible now. If this is what China wishes for the world, then this is what China ought to show as well.
In international geopolitics, any period of opportunistic strategic can disappear in an instance. The start of a right action is knowing when a strategic turning point presents itself. Take the current moment as example, China should focus on its international model, international language, and international affairs; All of these are heavily crucial elements in China’s acts of diplomacy. It has been proven that relying solely on Chinese diplomats to publish opinions in Western newspapers is an outdated action, and this should no longer be the go-to diplomatic practice for any major power. When Jared Kushner and Robert Kraft purchased some PPE materials from China under their own names and shipped it to the United States, it earned them heaps of praises; That’s a fact. China has provided aid to the United States in the past, but through the names of entrepreneurs, which did little to help China’s diplomacy, since it does not reflect the country in the national level, so now is the time for large-scale actions.
In most situations, the action itself is far less important than the timing. Right now, “masks, ventilators, and PPE” are more conducive to realizing China’s national interests than “atomic bombs, aircraft carriers, destroyers, and artilleries.” Such is the case for China’s geopolitics right now.
Final analysis conclusion:
With Covid-19 spreading across the world, China, being the first country to have freed itself from the pandemic’s grasps, should do its utmost to assist the world (the United States included) at an international level. Now is the time for a great power like China to show some responsibility. It is also a critical moment for China to realize its national interests and rebuild its international image via humanitarian acts.
Founder of Anbound Think Tank in 1993, Chan Kung is now ANBOUND Chief Researcher. Chan Kung is one of China’s renowned experts in information analysis. Most of Chan Kung‘s outstanding academic research activities are in economic information analysis, particularly in the area of public policy.