U.S.-China relations are at their “worst point in living memory,” according to a professor, who said both countries engaged in a “grand exercise in blame-shifting” over the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. President Donald Trump has blamed Beijing for a lack of transparency over the true extent of the Covid-19 outbreak in China – where cases were first reported. In response, Beijing has suggested that the U.S. might be the real source of the global pandemic.
“U.S.-China relations are at their worst point in living memory for a number of decades probably since the 1970s, at the moment there’s a grand exercise in blame shifting going on, on both sides,” said James Crabtree, an associate professor at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. “Neither side wants to be blamed for their own response, so the Chinese and Americans are blaming each other.”
US President Donald Trump takes a question from a reporter during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on April 6, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
China has reported 83,849 coronavirus cases, the latest data from Johns Hopkins University shows. That number is far below the 787,960 cases confirmed in the U.S., which has the highest number of reported infections in the world.
China fights back
For its part, China has fired back, with its foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, suggesting that the U.S. military might be the cause of the outbreak in Wuhan.
“When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals?” Zhao asked in a tweet on March 12. “It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”
According to Crabtree, the U.S.-China quarrel and their lack of cooperation are a setback in the war against the pandemic.
“It completely undermines any attempts to come up with new international solutions, whether that’s on the health side … or on the economic side, thinking about rescue packages,” he told CNBC last week. “Everything is made more difficult by the fact that U.S. and China are not going to cooperate with one another.”
In previous epidemics, both countries worked “reasonably well” with each other, which was an “important part” of sharing information about those outbreaks, Crabtree said.
Meanwhile, China’s relations with the U.K. are also appearing strained, with the U.K.’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying that Britain cannot return to “business as usual” with China in the aftermath of the pandemic. He said the U.K. wants a global “deep dive” investigation into the origins of the outbreak.
What it means for US-China trade war
After a trade dispute of more than a year which spooked financial markets, Washington and Beijing signed the long-awaited “phase one” trade deal in January. It came just after the first cases of the coronavirus were reported in China but before the outbreak spread widely globally.
There was talk then that the two economic powers were going to start moving toward a “phase two” deal, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said more tariffs would be rolled back in that phase.
But both countries would be in a “completely different ball game now” when it comes to trade relations, according to Crabtree.
“It’s very hard to tell at the moment, I think we’re so far away from that second phase. There probably will be some delays in the first phase agreement … It could be years away … they would have to start effectively from scratch,” he said.