The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to become a turning point, forcing the American elite to completely abandon its dismissive view of China and begin to perceive it as an equal, and therefore more dangerous, opponent, suggests Artyom Lukin, Associate Professor and Deputy Director for Research at the School of Regional and International Studies, Far Eastern Federal University.
The coronavirus pandemic has become a testing ground for relations between the two most significant powers in the modern world, the United States, and China. So far, the results are unfavourable, which indicates some fundamental problems between the two. Instead of rallying against this common deadly threat, Washington and Beijing have exchanged accusations and unfriendly gestures. Moreover, against the backdrop of the coronavirus, the initiative to escalating hostility has been taken by the Americans.
When the pandemic had just erupted in China, many in the United States did not hide their satisfaction and were even celebrating. They had hoped that the virus could severely damage its geopolitical and economic rival, and maybe even put it out of the game. According to US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, coronavirus is beneficial to America, because it will weaken the competitiveness of China. Many Senior US officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, have emphasized the Chinese origin of the coronavirus and accused China of not taking appropriate measures to prevent contagion. Some other American politicians, such as Republican Senator Tom Cotton, have gone further and accuse it of “duplicity and dishonesty” with a hint that the source of the virus is a “superlaboratory” located in Wuhan.
In response, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s representative suggested that there are good reasons to assume the virus had an American origin and even hinted at the involvement of US troops.
In the near future, a further escalation of US-China tension is unlikely, because the Americans will be occupied with their own struggle with coronavirus. However, after the pandemic subsides, a new round of confrontation seems to be almost inevitable. The United States continues to see China as its primary rival. The fact that China, contrary to the expectations of many, managed to take control of the epidemic quickly, only increases the fears of Beijing among the American ruling class. China’s struggle against coronavirus has demonstrated the effectiveness of its party-government system, its society’s ability to mobilize amid crises, and its technological potential. Coronavirus has demonstrated not only the vulnerabilities of modern China but also its strong points.
If this trend towards the intensification of the US-China confrontation is practically a decided matter, how should Russia be expected to respond? On the one hand, this rivalry is beneficial to Moscow, as Washington’s attention will focus on China, easing pressure on Russia. As the relations with Beijing worsen, the Americans may propose a deal to the Kremlin, hoping to tear it off from China.