China–US Covid-19 tensions: Realities on the ground

Tuesday August 31 2021
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A nurse at the Lancet Nectare Hospital (left) performs a Covid-19 coronavirus test in Richmond, Johannesburg, on December 18, 2020. PHOTO | AFP

By The Citizen Reporter

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic code-named ‘Covid-19’ in the late 2019 precipitated another dimension of the China–US bipolar rivalry and tensions, complementing the already existing ones on trade, among others. Specifically, the Covid-19-related tensions witnessed the US pointing fingers, shaming and naming China as the source of the pandemic. Indeed, the-then US President Donald Trump used phrases such as ‘plague from China’ to show that the pandemic originated in China - and that being the case, it should be confined to that country as a domestic affair.

Conceptually, this was a very wrong perception, given the current level of globalization which has made the world border-less. It is very wrong perception which has resulted in poor management of the pandemic, on the US side, right from the beginning, coupled with subsequent failures and omissions. Given this stance of mismanagement one would had expected self-correction; to the contrary self-destruction is observable, evidenced by laying blames on China on a number of fronts.

These blames, notwithstanding, US has eroded its credibility and trust, not only amongst its allies, but also across a wide spectrum of world’s population. Indeed, China on the one hand, has scaled-up its credibility and trust amongst its key stakeholders, and positioned itself as an evolving global leader and unwavering development partner, on the other hand.

In the ensuing paragraphs, we will provide evidence on the above claims, using two broad indicators.

One: China’s management-cum-governance system of the pandemic and the achieved results. And, two: China’s global efforts, both regional and multilateral, in containing/fighting the pandemic. Clearly, these two indicators will show that the blames levelled on China are ungrounded and therefore they should be ignored by any sound or objective thinking persons.

Evidence on the ground shows that, as early as January 2020, the Chinese government mandated a quarantine of Wuhan City, the epicentre of the outbreak. Likewise, control and preventive measures were instituted in other metropolitan areas such as Beijing and shanghai. The objective of these measures was to interrupt the transmission chain with the ultimate goal of reducing the infection and mortality rates among the population. Further, these measures were flanked with those of ensuring sustained supplies of daily necessities and medical personnel and materials were readily available whenever and wherever they were needed.


The success of these interventions were informed by the Chinese governance structure which adopted a whole- government approach, which displayed high levels of coordination efforts between the central and the local level administration. Whereby the central level set up a National Health Commission to activate all round emergence response at the local level. This did result in rapid mobilization and provision of requisite human and other resources, both at the centre and local governments. In other words, we could claim with confidence that both the centre and the periphery sung the same chorus.

This type of governance is conspicuously missing in the US pandemic management system. Where you see a lot of mismatch between the statements from and actions of the centre differing significantly from those of the states; a sign of poor coordination and response, characterized by unnecessary delays and hesitations, which were underpinned by high levels of polemics. It is no wonder therefore that infection and mortality rates have been quite high when compared to those in China.

In spite of the negative impact of the pandemic on the economy, especially on the service, manufacturing and trade sectors, the recovery has been faster than expected. Thanks to the effectiveness of the interventions adopted by the Chinese government to fight the virus, coupled with timely tapping of the unfolding new opportunities of other industries, such as electronic commerce and online gaming and entertainment.

The other piece of evidence is with regard to how China shouldered its international responsibilities and obligations in the wake of the pandemic. One may recall that there is a slogan which says ‘The world changed China; and China changed the world.’ In unison with this slogan, China continues to be a strong believer of globalisation and has never changed that position, come rain or shine.

This being the case, during the pandemic period, the Chinese government extended a hand of assistance to a number of countries in terms of medical equipment and tools, as well as vaccines. For example, in the first half of 2021, China exported more than 500 million doses of its vaccines Sinovac and Sinopharm to more than 112 countries and territories, accounting for one-sixth of global output of Covid-19 vaccines.

In the context of globalisation China has continued to work closely with multilateral and regional institutions. Indeed, it is widely agreed that multilateralism is an indisputable pillar for the current international order.

In realisation of this, the Chinese government strives to advocate solidarity and cooperation, as the only effective vehicle for addressing global issues such as pandemics, climate change, poverty, conflicts and debt-crisis. In that regard, China appears to be on the front line by being an active participant and provider of leadership in these platforms.

To extent that its profile and image in the world of politics, economics and social affairs keep rising. While on the other side of the coin, US not only promotes unilateralism in the context of its ‘America First Policy’, but also displays failure in providing leadership in these platforms.

One needs to remember that, in the past, the US provided leadership in the establishment of multilateral organizations such as the UN system and its institutions, including the World Food Programme (WFP); Food and Agricultural Organisation(FAO); World Health Organization (WHO), and other international organizations, such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO); the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Surprisingly - and with much disappointment - this is no longer the case. Currently, the US is withdrawing support from some of these institutions, which are key pillars of international cooperation in our border-less world.

The above two pieces of evidence show the active role played by China in combating the pandemic. Likewise, the passive role played by the US was also made clear. Furthermore, in the context of global solidarity and cooperation, China seems to being a proactive promoter, while US appears to abdicate its expected leadership role. Given these realities on the ground, it is now up to the reader to assess the ‘two candidates’ - US and China - in terms of the above narrated perform, and then make judgment by using the criterion of either ‘Success’ or ‘Failure’.