May 03, 2020

Trump’s Game: Scapegoating China

THE coronavirus global pandemic is still raging with its epicentre in the United States of America. It is during this time that President Trump and his administration have launched a frontal campaign against China, blaming it for the creation of the virus and its spread going to the extent of demanding compensation for the damage caused.

Trump took the lead by calling the Covid-19 virus a `Chinese virus’.  He subsequently claimed that the virus was created in a laboratory in Wuhan.  This stance was reiterated by the former CIA chief and now secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Pompeo, who called it a `Wuhan virus’, accused China of not sharing information it had on the virus, because of which the United States and the world suffered enormous losses. He declared that the Chinese government will have to “pay the price for what they did”.

Trump, on March 29, stated that he is considering suing China for compensation for the damage caused by the virus to the US.  Even before Trump made this statement, lawsuits had been filed in courts in Missouri, Florida and New York against the Chinese government suing it for damages. In Missouri, the state attorney general has sued for compensation. An American lawyer has filed a case in the International Criminal Court accusing China of intentionally developing the virus as a biological weapon and alleged it is “a crime against humanity”. Needless to say none of these lawsuits have any legal basis as per international law.

The scapegoating of China is being purveyed by the western corporate media and political commentators of various hues have joined the bandwagon.

Why is the Trump administration undertaking such a patently false and divisive campaign at a time when there has to be global unity and solidarity in fighting the pandemic? There are three reasons for this:  Firstly, it is being done to divert attention from the disastrous manner in which  the Trump administration has dealt with the coronavirus threat. Secondly, in this presidential election year, Trump and the ruling republicans want to target China  and whip up anti-China feelings to galvanise their nationalist and rightwing constituencies and thereby cover-up their overall record in government. Finally, the underlying and basic reason is the fear of the US imperialist ruling circles that China will emerge stronger in the post-Covid period, conditions for which can be seen in the way it so effectively tackled and contained the pandemic on a war footing.  On the other hand, there is a visible decline in the global role of the United States compounded by the chaotic manner in which it has dealt with the pandemic.

The charges filed against China itself betrayed the culpability of the US administration. While the charge of having manufactured the virus in a laboratory has been dismissed by scientists worldwide, there was no attempt on the part of the Chinese government to either hide the nature of the virus attack or stop information about the virus being shared internationally.

The first case of the coronavirus infection in Wuhan appeared in December 2019.  From the first patient on December 1, till a number of cases that appeared in the third week of December, it took some time for the doctors and medical experts to understand that this is not an existing illness known to them. It is only after investigations that the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of Hubei province (where Wuhan is situated) came to the conclusion that this was a new virus.  This was on December 29.  The next day, on December 30, they informed the central Chinese Centre for Disease Control and on December 31, China informed the WHO about the disease. 

On January 3, the virus was identified as SARS-CoV-2, which was later labelled as Covid-19. Chinese scientists worked overtime to unravel the genome sequence of the virus. On January 9, China shared the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus with the WHO and it came into the public domain.  It is this quick analysis of the genome structure of the virus that facilitated the ongoing global projects to find a vaccine. Some officials at the Hubei government level sought to underplay the serious nature of the virus in early January but they were quickly removed and there was no cover-up.

That Trump and Pompeo are lying about China not sharing the information is also clear from the fact that on January 1, 2020, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control officials called up Robert Redfield, head of the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and informed him about the new virus. A few days later, Dr George F Gao, the head of the Chinese CDC, talked to Redfield and conveyed the gravity of the threat of the virus.

Trump had consistently dismissed any danger from the virus for the United States, even though his trade advisor, Peter Navarro, in late January and February had submitted memos warning of the risk of the virus epidemic.  To accuse China of not sharing information and hiding the truth about the virus is nothing but plain dishonesty and chicanery.

China has correctly accused Trump and his cohort of racism for calling the Covid-19 a ‘Chinese virus’.  China’s official spokesperson has pointed out that when H1N1 virus was detected in California in April 2009 and it became a global pandemic, it was not called an ‘American virus’.  American history is replete with talk of the yellow peril from the 19th century onwards.  Trump is just echoing this view.

Trump has also turned his anger towards the World Health Organisation which had provided an objective and scientific report about the incidence of the virus in Wuhan and the Chinese government’s efforts in dealing with it. The WHO had declared the Covid-19 a global pandemic on March 11.  Trump took the criminal step of cutting off US funding to the world body at a time when all resources have to be deployed to fight the deadly disease.

The anti-China campaign has proliferated in India too. Editorials and commentaries have appeared critical of China and regurgitating some of the stuff in the western media. Though the Modi government has not joined its friends like President Bolsonaro of Brazil in maligning China, the rightwing Hindutva forces are active in propagating absurd anti-China stories in the social media. For this deranged crowd, the coronavirus threat is presented by Muslims internally and by the Chinese externally.

The Modi government is, however, influenced by its close strategic times with the United States. Secretary of State Pompeo told journalists in mid-April that the US and India are cooperating in the fight against the coronavirus. But he added “we continue to talk about the bigger issues, free and open Indo-Pacific, challenge of China and trade”. Here comes the geo-politics: the challenge of China. The United States is prodding India to curtail economic ties with China just as Japan is seeking to withdraw investments from China. Taking a cue from this, ministers in the government are talking about wooing companies that have invested in China to come to India instead.

At a time when the country is faced with a serious crisis and contraction of the economy, a relevant question to ask is whether this approach to China is in India’s interests or America’s. But that is a question which Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not even entertain, leave alone answer.

Joining the anti-China brigade at this juncture would only make the country subject to the vagaries of an irrational and self-centred American president and more beholden to imperialist interests.
(April 29, 2020)