George Soros says US should not work closely with China on coronavirus

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George Soros, billionaire founder of Soros Fund Management LLC, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 23, 2020.

Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The U.S. should be wary of working too closely with China in order to protect its own democracy, according to billionaire George Soros.

In an interview published on Monday by German newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine, Soros said ongoing tensions between the world’s two largest economies and President Donald Trump’s blaming of China for the Covid-19 pandemic were complicating potential joint efforts to eradicate the virus. 

However, Soros himself was not an advocate of closer relations with Beijing.

“There are a lot of people who say we should be working very closely with China (on tackling the crisis) — but I am not in favor of doing that,” he said. “We must protect our democratic open society. At the same time, we must find a way to cooperate on fighting climate change and the novel coronavirus. That won’t be easy.”

Xi’s power at risk

Soros told Augsburger Allgemeine he sympathized with the Chinese people who he claimed were “under the domination of a dictator.” However, he predicted that the coronavirus crisis was adding pressure to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s hold on power.

“Many well-educated Chinese are deeply angry at the party leadership for hiding the coronavirus for so long,” Soros said.

“When Xi abolished term limits and named himself, in essence, president for life, he destroyed the political future of the most important and ambitious men in a very narrow and competitive elite,” Soros said. “It was a big mistake on his part. So, yes, he is very strong in a way, but at the same time extremely weak, and now perhaps vulnerable.”

The new strain of coronavirus was first reported to the World Health Organization in late December after an outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Experts widely believe the virus originated earlier in one of the city’s wildlife markets, known as wet markets.

China has been criticized throughout the Covid-19 crisis for a lack of transparency and mishandling the initial outbreak. The country has denied any wrongdoing, with Chinese Vice Premier Le Yucheng telling NBC in April that China “did not cover anything up and did not delay any efforts.”

The WHO has cautioned against blaming individual countries for the spread of Covid-19, warning that pointing fingers at nations with a high number of cases could discourage accurate reporting on domestic outbreaks.

Despite facing international criticism, a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit on Thursday claimed the coronavirus crisis could accelerate a shift in global power from the West to the East, tilting the balance of power away from Washington in Beijing’s favor.

A spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told CNBC on May 6 that the country had “briefed the outbreak to the international community in a timely, transparent, open, and efficient manner, and actively carried out global anti-epidemic cooperation.”

Trump ‘would like to be a dictator’

Soros, a billionaire philanthropist and liberal activist, also slammed Trump’s politics, claiming the U.S. president wants to be a dictator but is held back by the U.S. Constitution. He alleged that Trump did not represent the values of an open and free society.

“Donald Trump would like to be a dictator,” he told Augsburger Allgemeine. “But he cannot be one because there is a Constitution in the United States that people still respect, and it will prevent him from doing certain things — that doesn’t mean he will not try because he is literally fighting for his political survival.”

Representatives of the White House declined to comment when contacted by CNBC.

While Soros claimed Trump’s presidency was a “weakness” for the U.S., he said he believed the president was self-destructive.

“I have put my faith in Trump to destroy himself, and he has exceeded my wildest expectations,” he said.

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