It’s amazing how much the virus is affecting international relations. The first conflict was between the United States and China. The Americans accused Beijing of hiding the facts related to the epidemic, persecuting the doctors who reported it, as well as trying to accuse Beijing of provoking the catastrophe of others, that is, the United States. The representative of the Chinese Foreign Ministry indeed tried to publicly shift the responsibility for the proliferation of SARS-CoV-2 to them.
Americans are particularly hurt by China’s skilful use of the fact that the situation in its Wuhan province, where it all began, has normalized, while in the U.S. and Europe the epidemic continues to rage and the number of patients is increasing. This allows the Chinese leadership to play an unexpected role: not one who is responsible for the world learning too late about the virus and its spread, but a firefighter fighting fire.
President Trump has found himself in a difficult position.
He does not yet know how many lives will be taken by the epidemic in the U.S., but understands that charges of political naivety await him. When he emphasized a few weeks ago that he believed the data from Xi Jinping, American intelligence was already sounding the alarm. It said that the coronavirus has exceptional transmission capability and threatens to cause more serious consequences than would have been expected.
Now Trump is on his way to the unknown. At this stage, it is difficult to say what the epidemic will be like for America, what restrictions the Americans will impose, how many deaths await and how all this will affect the election campaign in which the incumbent head of state will take part in a few months.
Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats seem to have been tasked with countering Beijing’s rhetoric, and Trump provocatively began calling the virus “Chinese”.
However, this is too weak a response to China’s active information offensive. The Chinese can now afford to send masks and ventilators to many countries in the world (particularly those in allied relations with the United States). Of course, they are not mainly doing this on a gratuitous basis, but China skillfully presents its actions as “help”. Depressed politicians in Europe (including Poland), under public pressure, ask for it, and then publicly fall apart in gratitude. Politicians are ruled by feelings, and now, a few months after the beginning of the epidemic, everyone has one feeling: “Only Chinese help will save us.
Russia has also joined the struggle for the role of a positive hero. In its case, the situation looks even more curious: the largest country in the world is facing an epidemic that is only beginning on its territory, but is already playing a demonstrative political game, providing assistance to countries such as Italy, and at the same time demanding the lifting of sanctions that were imposed a few years ago for the capture of Crimea.
A few weeks ago, it was inconceivable that China and Russia would be able to use the virus so effectively to advance their interests and also to suggest how weak the West would be. If anyone wanted to see what a real turn of history looked like, they could do it now.