US-China cooperation is imperative in fight against Covid-19
Javed Hafeez
Coronavirus is not the first pandemic to hit the world and yet it could be far more consequential than any other. Our world is globalized, interwoven and interdependent and the disease is carried at unimaginable pace to the furthest corners of the globe.
A challenge of such a gigantic scale calls for a well-coordinated international response. But unfortunately, the appetite for multilateral cooperation has been declining in recent years.
Covid-19 is already showing its cascading consequences. Stock markets have tumbled around the world and international trade is shrinking. The job market has been dented everywhere and will take its own sweet time to recover. In such hard times, the demand for luxury goods makes a nosedive. A drastic reduction in aggregate demand has a negative multiplier effect on the economy.
In this sobering scenario, the blame game between the world’s two foremost economies is exceedingly damaging. Last month, a joint statement could not be issued by the G7 meeting over a deadlock: the US insisted China’s Wuhan be mentioned as the origin of Covid-19.
A large scale epidemic should have been just the right kind of opportunity for international cooperation. Even during the cold war era, Soviet and US scientists had joined hands to develop a vaccine against polio. In 2003, China and the US cooperated to contain the damage of SARS. Similarly in 2005, Chinese and US presidents hammered out “Ten core principles of global pandemic response.” Those principles were later endorsed by many nations.
Unfortunately, now acrimony has replaced cooperation. President Trump has publicly called coronavirus the “Chinese virus” while China has said the virus was brought to Wuhan by US soldiers who came there for a military exercise.
Extraordinary times call for a global response which is conspicuous by its absence so far. The hardest hit country in Europe is fending for itself. None of the EU member states have offered any help-- only China has offered assistance to Italy.
This could have a long-term negative impact on the European Union. Ideally, the US, China and World Health Organization (WHO) should have joined hands to develop an effective vaccine for the novel coronavirus. But the two countries have instead engaged in a useless blame game. Precious time was wasted in exchanging unnecessary invectives and to cap it all, the US has threatened to stop its funding for WHO.
China had provided the US with all necessary details about this virus in early January, but instead of enhancing cooperation, the US simply stopped flights from China.
Meanwhile, Beijing has controlled the spread of the disease on its soil, but the number of confirmed cases and deaths in the US has exponentially increased. President Trump’s streak for unilateralism could inflict huge damage to his nation.
Coronavirus is no ordinary affliction and is likely to impact the world economy in a variety of ways. In fact, to some extent the process of globalization could even be reversed. Global producers have realized that extra long supply chains are more vulnerable to shocks in such circumstances. The world economy is already witnessing recessionary trends. In addition to finding a medical antidote for this deadly virus, the world will have to think of ways and means for a speedy economic recovery out of this unusual human experience.
Pakistan supported the gigantic Chinese effort to fight the disease by extending moral help and solidarity. It sent over medical supplies and followed China’s advice to not shift Pakistani students from the virus epicentre of Wuhan.
As a gesture of solidarity, President Arif Alvi visited China last month, and so far, China has donated $4 million for the construction of a hospital, sent plane loads of medical supplies and a medical team for a detailed visit to Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the US government has also sent coronavirus specific assistance of a million dollars. While Pakistan has received bilateral assistance from both countries, the Sino-US acrimony remains truly worrisome.
A vital three months were lost in the countries’ futile blame game even though of late, President Trump has appreciated “China’s understanding” of the virus.
It is now imperative that the world not only invent an effective vaccine urgently, but also arrest recessionary trends already visible in international trade, investments and oil prices.
Only timely actions based on the right solutions and close international cooperation can redeem the current situation. Now is not the time for selfish national policies.