A Battle for Supremacy, But At What Cost?

Paolina Bertuzzi
US President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping shake hands in Beijing, 2017
Source: Qilai Shen, Bloomberg, Getty Images

Since the economic reforms adopted by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, China has rapidly developed from a country based on a rural economy into the world’s second greatest economic power, just behind the United States.

As the Trade War has demonstrated, Donald Trump is carrying out a foreign policy based on a growing sense of rivalry between the United States and China. According to President Trump, China benefits by violating the rules of the WTO, enabling unfair trade practices and causing the economic conflict between the two countries. However, the most recent twist in the China-US relationship should be taken into consideration. Donald Trump has recently suspended US funding to the World Health Organization, accusing the body of mismanaging the COVID-19 crisis and covering up the outbreak of the virus in collaboration with China. In fact, in his view, WHO appeared to be too China-centric in its approach.

Being the largest single contributor to the body’s budget, nearly $400m per annum, the US has the right to investigate how WHO is allocating its resources, and the organisation has been largely criticised for the way it has handled previous health crises, such as Ebola. Then, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 12th, when several thousands of people had already died from the virus across the globe. On the other side, Mr. Trump, has also been accused of underestimating the infection rate of the virus, hoping it would disappear ‘like a miracle’. All of these considerations may or may not be accurate, and one could easily argue for one side or the other.

However, the current situation should not be the opportunity for another US-China geopolitical battle. Suspending US funding to WHO in the middle of a pandemic drastically weakens the effectiveness of the organization’s response to the virus outbreak. As the Secretary-General of the UN remarked, this is the time to support humanitarian organisations extensively, not to undermine their operations. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has tried several ways to blame China for the virus outbreak; he accused the country of hiding the virus from the world, and then of creating it in a lab.

If COVID-19 represents an opportunity to challenge China in the US agenda, is the risk of poorly handling the world’s fight against the virus worth taking?

• What does the WHO concretely do?
• What are the risks of the US-China war in a health crisis?
• What can we do, as individuals, to contain the spread of the virus apart from practising social distancing?

Recommended readings:

Financial Times, Trump Suspends Funding to WHO

FORTUNE, Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. funding would make China WHO’s biggest benefactor

The Diplomat, How Other Countries Can Survive the Us-China COmpetition

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A Battle for Supremacy, B…

by Paolina Bertuzzi time to read: 2 min