Let me be clear, with regard to COVID-19, China engaged in a cover-up and the W.H.O. did not push back enough, though both deny it. Local officials in Wuhan knew about the disease early but chose to minimize fears about it and punished doctors who spoke out. Beijing, for its part, kept a tight lid on information, refused help from the C.D.C., and gave the W.H.O. limited access to Wuhan.
Some health experts say it is likely that China is still giving us unreliable data about the numbers of infected and dead. And China’s repressive regime has always controlled and manipulated information to serve its larger interests, but none of that changes the fact that Donald Trump was well aware of the potential dangers of the virus by late January at minimum and by mid-February at the latest.
He made a judgment that the virus would not be a big problem for America, that it could go away in April with warm weather. He apparently worried that taking strong actions against it would spook the stock market. It is those misjudgments that have significantly worsened the COVID-19 crisis in America.
Now, to deflect blame from himself, President Trump has decided to bash China. This compounds one bad policy with another. Whatever China’s mistakes, missteps and deceptions, the fastest way to defeat this pandemic would be to build a broad international alliance, to pool resources, share information, and coordinate actions.
Right now, Washington is doing the opposite, restricting trade in key supplies, allegedly outbidding other countries for shipments of PPE and acting without even consulting its closest allies. China, meanwhile, has tried to scrub its own record by floating a conspiracy theory that the U.S. military created the outbreak in Wuhan. It has also tried to do undeniably good things like lending expertise to countries around the world and sending supplies to hard hit places such as Iran, Italy, Spain and the United States.
During the Cold War, when the United States and the soviet union were mortal rivals, they still cooperated on a campaign to vaccinate the world and eradicate smallpox. Now, we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and the U.S. and China, the world’s two leading powers, are trading insults and one-upping each other in a childish blame game that will not save one human life anywhere.
In an Amazon Exclusive, Ian Bremmer interviewed Zakaria years ago on his thoughts on China after the release of this book “The Post American World.”
Bremmer: Among rising states, which do you think have the most staying power and why? Will some of the rest be left behind?
Zakaria: China is in a league apart from every other rising power. It has the scale–in terms of sheer numbers–to have a huge global impact. It is also run by a competent elite, technocrats who plan for the long term and are moving China up the value chain. They are making huge investments in education and infrastructure, which will pay off over the long run. I agree with you that China continues to have a long-term political challenge, how to combine a vigorous and open economy with a closed and bureaucratic political system. But so far they have managed to balance it–I think they will need to make much larger political changes in the next decade than they have in the last decade.
Bremmer: How well do you think America is responding to China’s continued rise?
Zakaria: American business has been responding well to China’s rise, helping it but also benefitting from it. American society is more closed and parochial than American business and so there has been little contact, which is a pity because we can always learn from others. Washington, at a foreign policy level, has actually done quite well in its handling of China. It has encouraged the integration of China into the global economy, it has tried to get China to be more rule-based and more committed to producing (rather than consuming) global public goods. And it has carefully and systematically shored up its alliances with key Asian countries, from India to Japan to South Korea to Australia, which is an important hedge against Chinese expansion. All in all, a solid performance.
This article first appeared on TheConservativeOpinion.com