This essay is part of a series, Fletcher Voices. WPF invited students at Tufts University’s the Fletcher School for Law and Diplomacy to submit short essays reflecting on the impact of coronavirus. Xiaodan (Zoe) Huang is a second-year Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Her research concentrations are law and development, with regional focus on Asia Pacific. She is the co-chair of the Fletcher ASEAN Society.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the distrust between China and U.S. is mounting, while the population of the two great powers are suffering greatly from the disease. The antagonism at official level is triggering hatred and anger from both sides. And the media, without much fact-checking, is only making it worse. The Trump administration repeatedly labelled the virus as China-made, and called it “China Virus”. And the U.S. State Department pushed to include the term “Wuhan Virus” during the G7 Conference. From the Chinese side, a spokesman for Foreign Ministry of China, Zhao Lijian, tweeted about a conspiracy theory which claims that it might be the U.S. army who brought the virus to Wuhan, where the 7th Military World Games was held. This tweet was made without much factual background and evidence. A spokesman from the U.S. also blamed China for deflecting criticism for the role that it has played in the global pandemic. The same criticism was also pointed at the U.S. from the Chinese ambassador to Kazakhstan, Zhang Xiao.

Since COVID-19 has become pandemic, China’s “coronavirus diplomacy” has become controversial. It has been described as Beijing’s attempt to make itself a global leader, while the U.S. retreats from that role. Indeed, China’s efforts appear as a mirror of President Bush’s “medical diplomacy”, when the U.S. was promoting the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief and other health initiatives around the world.

China sent COVID-19 testing kits and 300 doctors to Italy in a much-publicized gesture. But in the English language media the dominant story is that the testing kits are not working properly and that China is trying to export faulty supplies. It is also widely reported that testing kits donated to Spain only have a 30% accuracy rate. The Chinese Embassy in Spain responded in a tweet that the product was made by Bioeasy, a Shenzhen-based biotechnology company whose products were not officially donated by Chinese government. This company does not have a license from China’s National Medical Products Administration to be cleared by Chinese customs. Nevertheless, after the Spanish Society of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology, one of Spain’s leading research institutes reassessed the rapid tests, it turned out that they are officially CE-IVD approved. However, this statement was rarely reported by English media.

The same has happened for the Philippines, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Reports show that among China’s donation of 100,000 testing kits to the Philippines, only 40 percent worked. However, the Philippines’ health ministry later apologized and explained that those testing kits meet WHO standard. For the Czech Republic, following the statement that 80% of the testing kits are faulty, the deputy minister of health of the Czech Republic later claimed in an interview that the error rate of those testing kits is only 20 to 30 percent. Nevertheless, few of those statements which refuted the high error rate of the testing kits were reported by major western media.

This is not to glorify China as a world saver which donates to countries purely out of altruism. Political consideration is always a factor when a country is making its foreign policy. Neither does this mean that the reports about faulty testing kits are untrue.

The key point is that the media reporting of China’s health assistance and medical diplomacy presents it first of all as sinister, without making a balanced assessment. With the antagonistic blaming game at official level, as well as biased report at unofficial level, U.S.- China relations are going to be stuck in a quagmire.

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One Response to Fletcher Voices: “U.S.-China Relation in a Quagmire, Blaming Game and Biased Reports”

  1. MG says:

    No one wants to live in a world where we must wear masks everywhere we go because of China’s incompetence in containing a pandemic or regulating its food industry. The world has a right to blame China, as its government should take more responsibility for its actions by being transparent and apologetic.

    This post fails to mention the arrest of Dr. Li Wenliang by the Chinese government for trying to alert the world to the impending pandemic – he represents one of many voices silenced in the name of advancing CCP objectives. Whether Zhao Lijian’s tweet (using the hard-won freedom of an American social media platform) was officially sanctioned or came with a “wink and a nod by the Chinese government” is irrelevant. It reflects the general opaqueness with which China has handled this entire situation resulting in senseless deaths of many people.

    The CCP has done everything it can to redirect the narrative around the virus that came from China rather than take responsibility and apologize to the world like it should be doing. Western countries and the rest of the world have a right to blame China and to be upset. Our loved ones are suffocating to death, often alone, and China continues to take advantage of the problem it created as a direct result of its irresponsible actions. Despite the general consensus in the scientific community about how the virus started – likely in a meat market – the world should be on guard for Chinese scientific studies that are being censored by the CCP prior to being published; these studies, which are effectively going to be an extension of the propaganda we have seen so much of, will likely downplay the role of these establishments. This censorship of the scientific community was recently reported by Time magazine. Further, in a recent interview, the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. stated the country would be unwilling to let a team of US doctors enter the country to help study the virus. Put simply, the duplicity of the Chinese government precludes it from leading the scientific community or rest of the world in good faith on this pandemic.

    This article above cherry picks a litany of biased sources to equivocate China’s dangerous behaviors, including the South China Morning Post and other sources that are either government-backed or forced to take a censored position.

    Yes, the U.S. was unprepared for this attack, but it does not absolve China from blame. There isn’t a blame “game,” there is just blame where it is due, and no one should be reticent about voicing this. The attempt to avert linking the virus to Wuhan by pushing the WHO to call it COVID19 was not a social justice mission – it was part of the CCP effort to furnish damage control on China’s reputation.

    How much market value has been destroyed? How many companies and their associated IP will be scooped up by CCP backed front companies drooling in the wings to provide a “capital injection” at a discount? That’s a value transfer to the Chinese economy. Just today the NY Times released an article discussing how Chinese agents used social media platforms to sow chaos and confusion in the U.S. Spain was one of the worst-hit countries by the virus and while the faulty test kits may not have been “officially donated” Spain sure paid a lot for them. In terms of the error rates 30% is still very high (HIV tests have a 99.97% accuracy rate) and would someone like a Minister in a political position really be better equipped to know this figure than the people administering them? Likely not. What are the chances the Czech minister was strong-armed into issuing this statement to continue kowtowing to the easily bruised ego of the CCP? Very likely. The help China has provided shouldn’t be lauded – it has a moral obligation to fix the problem.

    The difference between Bush’s “medical diplomacy” and COVID19 diplomacy is that Bush’s medical diplomacy was focused on already existing health problems, not a pandemic we created.

    This article above cherry picks a litany of biased sources to equivocate China’s dangerous behaviors, including the South China Morning Post and other sources that are either government-backed or forced to take a censored position. Even though it seemingly takes a balanced stance, criticism toward China need not fray relations further – the CCP should nod its head, look inward, and accept the criticism it is getting. The world is on fire.

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