America United: The Politics of the Coronavirus

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 The upcoming 2020 presidential elections, in their current standing, are more of a battle for the democrats.Donald Trump seems, at least for the time being, to be empowered by the impeachment acquittal and by a strong performance on the economy.

As China is a part of the political debate, Trump has already built up his resume in the ‘civilised combat’ against China.It was difficult to fit the Democratic Party candidates on one stage, thus followed having them divided into two groups, and their big number reveals both wide range of views and disagreements.

There has never been a time when Americans were divided in the ways they currently are,living and projecting their disagreements and strife.  Since the Civil War, Americans were divided on issues related to race, ideology, politics, economics, and ‘other’. The current divide can be summed up by the existing of multiple Americas in America. Since Trump became president, the divide between the Americans became between a great America and supposedly not a so-great-America.

However, America is united, at least in the attempt, in deeming China a threat and evil.   The Democratic Party candidates seem to be united not necessarily by being democrats but by a common ambition which is to defeat Trump. Demonising Trump is the business of the day. Nevertheless, when asked to evaluate how Trump deals with China, they would provide a common answer that is part of the overall disposition on China—China is a competitor and a threat, and they confidently endorse Trump’s dogmata towards China.

The Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak was initially mild. For that, Trump has been accused by the Dems candidates that his administration is not responding adequately to the outbreak, while this is traditional elections and political tactics, it reflects how China became established in the American political psyche.  Joe Biden, whose stance on China changes, with his cumulative campaign appearances, from arguing that China represented little threat, to him being ready to confront China with like-minded global democracies. Biden, in an Op-ed, published in USA Today, wrote that “Trump is the worst possible leader to deal with coronavirus outbreak”.

It is worth reading Mike Pompeo’s warning to the U.S/ governors to “adopt a cautious mind-set” when doing business with China, stating that China was using US openness to “gain advantage over us at the federal level, the state level and the local level.”   The Trump administration initial mild response to the outbreak was not for the love for China. There is no mechanism within his administration for an immediate response.

Laurie Garrett, in Foreign Policy- Jan. 31, tells how in 2018 the Trump administration fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure. Garrett writes that in the spring of 2018, the White House pushed Congress to cut funding for Obama-era disease security programs, proposing to eliminate $252 million in previously committed resources for rebuilding health systems in Ebola-ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Under fire from both sides of the aisle, President Donald Trump dropped the proposal to eliminate Ebola funds a month later. But other White House efforts included reducing $15 billion in national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS. And the government’s $30 million Complex Crises Fund was eliminated.   Garrett also writes that in May 2018, Trump ordered the NSC’s entire global health security unit shut down. The global health section of the CDC was so drastically cut in 2018 that much of its staff was laid off and the number of countries it was working in was reduced from 49 to merely 10.

Meanwhile, throughout 2018, the U.S. Agency for International Development and its director, Mark Green, came repeatedly under fire from both the White House and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And though Congress has so far managed to block Trump administration plans to cut the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps by 40 percent, the disease-fighting cadres have steadily eroded as retiring officers go unreplaced. “…”   Despite all this, the Americans offered help to their Chinese counterparts when Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said the United States has submitted names of U.S. experts to the WHO for inclusion in a WHO delegation of experts to assist China with the outbreak response.

On Sunday Feb. 2, President Trump’s chief national security adviser Robert O’Brien said on CBS’ Face the Nation, “We want to help our Chinese colleagues if we can. We have made the offer and we will see if they accept.” It is ironic that there is no such defence mechanism represented by an effective body to respond to an outbreak in the United States while an offer is being made to assist China. The offer is also being made while banning Chinese citizens from entering the U.S., which was maintained as an ‘overreaction’ by the Spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry.

In a scenario that a team of American health experts, which is in no doubt America has the best of medical experts globally, heads for China and assists in the response, it is likely that the Trump administration would use such move in two ways. The first would be that Trump would use this along the campaign trail as “America dismantled the coronavirus and China would not survive without America’s help”. The Trump administration would use such humanitarian intervention as a political tool.

Separating children from their families on the borders with Mexico was similarly used for political ends. It is also likely that in the second round of Trade Talks, the Trump Administration would deliver their Chinese counterparts a letter that reads: “Dear Chinese trade negotiators, the bill for sending our team to China is […], “please pay and do not take advantage of America again.”  It is likely that any help from the United States at this stage to be used as tool for humiliation.

The current complications of American politics towards China are sad, they make America united coupled with hope for the return of jobs (Wilbur Ross) during a national distress and a pandemic outbreak in China. It is perhaps wise on the part of the Chinese not to respond and/or not to say much with regard to this issue.  Let’s though remember the Marshall Plan, not in its financial scope, but in its historical gesture— a proper and true American spirit.

Nath Aldalala’a, Professor of International Relations, American University in the Emirates, United Arab Emirates.



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