Internal Chinese Report Warns Beijing Faces Global Backlash Amidst COVID-19 Outbreak


Ellie Hunter

BEIJING- Beijing faces increased global hostility since the coronavirus outbreak, warns an internal Chinese report by the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. Chinese-American relations have become more conflicted. Reuters said that the detailed report showed the global stance towards China is at its lowest point in three decades since the events of the fatal 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. 

Suspicions arise

Steven Erlanger of The New York Times said that Beijing’s aggressively nationalistic and defensive “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy of public relations has increased other countries suspicions of China. Chinese diplomats have supposedly, “…gotten into fights with every northern European country with whom they should have an interest, and they’ve alienated every one of them,” said senior adviser for Asia at the Paris-based Institut Montaigne, François Godement. According to Susan Shirk, China scholar and director of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego, The Propaganda Department has taken over what healthy diplomacy China should have exhibited. 

The government has acted assertively and brazenly against comments about the virus, trying to avoid allegations and instead prove their success at combating it. Erlanger said that Beijing is encouraging Chinese diplomats to be combative, according to Shirk. France, for instance, has shown growing distrust of Beijing, Chinese diplomats made accusations that the elderly in the nursing homes were being deliberately left to die, said Erlanger.

China has also used the media as propaganda, such as advertising Australia as the, “gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe,” following Australia’s requests to investigate the virus’ origins. Beijing, responsible for a third of Australian exports, threatened sanctions against the country. China’s combative Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, has claimed that the virus came from the U.S. military, reported Erlanger.

China’s extreme defense tactics against the allegations of the virus’s origins has shown the extent of its threat to China’s reputation. Chinese diplomats have threatened to withhold medical aid in the Netherlands after a name change in their representative office in Taiwan and publicly argued with a German newspaper that demanded economic compensation for the virus.

Economics

China matches America as a world power today; according to Statistica, in 2018, the country had a GDP of $13.41 trillion U.S. dollars. Reuters assessment of the warnings of anti-China sentiment in light of the virus could incite resistance to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure investment projects. In China, Statistica analyzed that manufacturing receives the most investment, and a decrease in investment could exacerbate the economic downturn even further.

However, Weizhen Tan of CNBC reported that some analysts predict the virus could actually shift world economic influence from the West to the East. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) predicts China will be the first to recover from the virus since they were the first ones hit; the country is down to only a few cases daily according to Chinese government data reports, said Tan, while America is still the most affected country. 

“Mask diplomacy” is a strategy Beijing has implemented to get in the good graces of nations worldwide by donating medical supplies to infected countries, said Tan. Analysts predict this could have positive global influence for Asia. The EIU stated, “The pandemic is [therefore] likely to accelerate the rebalancing of global economic power from the West to the East in coming years… Unless the developed nations change course and pursue a radically different economic path after the crisis, the gap between a slow-growing West and an economically dynamic East is likely to widen.”

China’s foreign ministry made a statement in light of threatened sanctions by America, declaring that, “any words or actions that engage in political manipulation or stigmatization under the pretext of the pandemic, including taking the opportunity to sow discord between countries, are not conducive to international cooperation against the pandemic,” reported Reuters. 

Compensation

Leaders around the world have been calling for China to pay reparations for the damage caused by the virus. Per American death from the virus, Trump proposes China owes America $10 million, Erlanger said.

According to Theresa Fallon, director of the Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies, reparations are unlikely to happen though because of the Chinese defeat in the ultranationalist Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901); “The party’s cultivation of the humiliation narrative makes it politically impossible for Xi to ever agree to pay any reparations,” said Erlanger. 

Zi Zhongyun, an expert on America at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote an essay that connected the actions of xenophobia and nationalism of the Boxer Rebellion to the modern day Wolf Warrior diplomacy. Zi said this connection  prevents China from stepping up today to make agreements with the other countries.

Rivalry between China and America

According to Hugo Brennan, the principal Asia Analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, ″The coronavirus pandemic is undoubtedly fueling an increase in geopolitical tensions between the US and China,” said Weizhen Tan of CNBC news. The EIU said the current tensions and debate between these two nations, who both in recent years have fought for economic control, was not stimulated by the virus but rather provoked by its presence, reported Tan. Brennan said Trump’s re-election campaign will follow a “Blame China” call-to-action and could lead to another four years of unstable tension with Beijing if he wins, Tan said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an interview with This Week, said, “… I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan,” according to Jason Lemon of Newsweek. Erlanger said Trump is filing serious investigations into China and its origins, threatening the country with tariffs and sue and contemplating retaliatory efforts, according to Reuters. One of President Trump’s arguments for believing Chinese officials have something to hide about the virus is because of the lack of investigative work done by China, said James Palmer of Foreign Policy.

Spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Geng Shuang, retorted against American blame of the virus’s lab origin by saying, “The U.S. government has ignored the facts, diverted public attention and engaged in buck passing in an attempt to shirk its responsibility for incompetence in the fight against the epidemic,” said Lemon. 

Thus far over three million people globally have been infected with the coronavirus, reported a tally by Reuters, with more cases happening daily.


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