A number of countries have been critical of US President Donald Trump’s inability to work with the global community, including US allies, even in the midst of the corona virus crisis. Not only has Trump’s domestic handling of the corona virus drawn scathing criticism (right until the end of February, the US President dismissed the threat from coronavirus, even though he had been warned by senior officials in January itself), but also he has failed to show leadership skills. As of April 8, 2020 the total number of deaths from the coronavirus was estimated at 12,900, while the number of cases was estimated at 400000
While Trump has sought global assistance from South Korea, India (US has also accepted assistance from Taiwan) it is only in the past few weeks with the rise of coronavirus cases in the US, that the US President seems to be realizing the need for global cooperation.
The US President had an opportunity not just to work in a structured manner with other countries, including allies. Trump has not only disappointed the allied but also has failed miserably on showing magnanimity vis-à-vis other countries, specifically Iran, which have been hit by US sanctions and have been requesting a waiver seeing the current situation. Trump has been urged not just by other countries, but even senior politicians in the US, including Democrat Presidential Candidate Joe Biden and other Democrat leaders, to remove Iranian sanctions. Instead in recent weeks, the US has imposed more sanctions on Iran and has even blocked Iran’s request to the International Monetary Fund for 5 Billion USD. As of April 8, 2020, there were a total of 67,286 coronavirus cases and a total of 4,000 deaths arising from the virus.
While the US may have failed in providing leadership and Trump’s handling of the crisis may have left much to be desired, China’s role in concealing important information with regard to the coronavirus, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) playing ball with it has not been taken to kindly by many countries – like Taiwan and UK. US President, Donald Trump who has called the virus a ‘Chinese virus’ even spoke about a possible reduction of US funding of the WHO and accused it of toeing the Chinese line. On March 27, 2020 after his conversation with Chinese President, Xi Jinping, US President Donald Trump did reiterate the need for greater international cooperation to deal with the deadly pandemic
Beijing’s assistance to other countries
While Beijing has tried to project itself by providing medical assistance in various ways (doctors, ventilators, masks and testing kits). A number of countries, such as Serbia and Italy, have lauded China for the assistance provided and welcomed the medical assistance.
The Chinese Media has also predictably been critical of the US for failing to cooperate with other countries while praising China’s role. An April 6 article in the Chinese Communist Party backed newspaper, Global Times titled ‘Lack of US leadership can’t stall global virus fight’ has criticised Trump for his America First policy while praising China’s role in the current crisis’.
Says the article: ‘Fortunately for the world, many countries have turned to China instead of the US for help, and China has given active responses, demonstrating its responsibility as a big power. The international community should unite to win this battle together. The absence of US’ leadership does not amount to the end of the world’.
Between Trump’s ‘America First’ policy and China’s attempt to ‘mask’ its shortcomings
While it is true, that even US allies are disappointed with Trump’s leadership in the middle of this crisis, Beijing’s arm twisting of the WHO has not been taken to kindly and there have been calls for reform of the organisation. Similarly, many countries have been wary of China’s assistance and EU, US and UK have even accepted Taiwan’s assistance (much to the dismay of Beijing). While Beijing is trying to successfully pitch its narrative of having dealt with the corona virus, the fact is that South Korean and Taiwan have been successful in dealing with the coronavirus. Both countries have been extremely efficient in preventing the spread and have been transparent. As of April 8, 2020 there were over 10,000 coronavirus related cases in South Korea and 200 deaths, while in Taiwan there were 379 cases and 5 deaths.
The other interesting development is, that while the Trump Administration may have not exhibited required flexibility vis-à-vis Iran, UK, Germany and France by providing Iran medical assistance, through the INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) mechanism, have sent a strong message. While Washington may have failed, the three countries in spite of their own problems, have tried to do their bit and have not allowed Beijing to dictate the narrative.
While US may have failed, for China to don the mantle of global leadership, without transparency and its record on Human Rights is a bit of a stretch. Also, Beijing will have to answer some uncomfortable questions with regard to not sharing information regard to the spread of the coronavirus. While the current situation, does not call for a simplistic ‘zero-sum’ approach, Trump’s isolationism does not imply that Beijing’s gestures vis-à-vis other countries are driven by ‘altruism’.
The Chinese media will try to exploit divisions, between democratic countries, and push forward a one sided agenda, but this should be resisted. Western liberal democracies need to find common ground with democracies in Asia, and ensure that Beijing’s skewed narrative is blunted.
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Consulting Editor, Geopolitics with The Dispatch, Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based Policy Analyst. He is associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana. He is a former SAV Visiting Fellow (Winter 2016) with the Stimson Centre, Washington DC. Mr Maini was also an Asia Society India-Pakistan Regional Young Leaders Initiative (IPRYLI) Fellow (2013-14), and a Public Policy Scholar with The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Chennai (November 2013-March 2014). His research interests include; the role of Punjab in India-Pakistan ties, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the changing nature of Indian federalism. He is a contributor for a number of publications including; The Hindu, The Diplomat, Modern Diplomacy and The Geopolitics.
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