Unfortunately, the author’s hopes that attempts to seek monetary compensation from China for its alleged role in the SARS-COV-2 pandemic would involve individuals rather than countries (and their nation-wide policies), first and foremost the United States, have been dashed.
On 6 April, Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican senator, stated China needed to “pay for” its response to the crisis that enabled the contagion to spread around the world, and added President Donald Trump was not to blame for the almost catastrophic in nature outbreak in the United States.
A few days later, another Republican senator, Ron Johnson, said the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee would begin “a wide-ranging probe into the origins of and response to the Coronavirus pandemic”.
On 24 April, a 57-page memo, prepared by O’Donnell and Associates a week earlier and sent by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (working on electing Republicans to this body) to campaigns, was (somehow and for some reasons) leaked to the press. The document, meant for internal use only, essentially included recommendations for Republicans on how to use the “Coronavirus” angle in the battle against their opponents, the Democrats.
In response to the leak, the PRC Foreign Ministry Spokesperson asked a legitimate question: “Why do some US forces take every chance to smear China?”. He also said that Beijing firmly opposed certain US individuals and groups taking advantage of the PRC “to garner votes” or vilifying China “using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse”.
It seems important to focus on the position taken by Donald Trump’s administration when discussing the overall issue of “USA-China SARS-COV-2 pandemic”. Earlier, the author reported that there had been disagreement on it among the US leadership. China’s tabloid newspaper The Global Times described the situation at the time as follows:
“Over the past three months, instead of responding to the outbreaks rationally and collectively, the Trump administration has continuously been flip-flopping in its policies, ignoring advice from medical professionals, being willfully blind, but coming up with groundless accusations, xenophobic and racist comments.”
The stance adopted by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is decidedly anti-Chinese, President Donald Trump, on the other hand, has tried to avoid an uncontrollable downward spiral in US relations with the PRC up until recently. It appears that severing ties (especially in trade) with China is not part of President’s plans. And the fact that the so-called US-China “Phase-One” Trade Deal was signed on 15 January adds credence to the above hypothesis.
Donald Trump’s mission is tied, first and foremost, to reducing USA’s foreign-trade deficit and not only with the PRC but with other key allies too. Hence, until recently, the US President’s statements directed at China had either barely touched upon or had failed to include various issues deemed as sacred by his rivals from the “swamp” of Washington politics. And they include the “human rights” situation in Hong Kong, Tibet and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
However, as the general election battle intensifies in earnest, it appears as if (the now infamous) “circumstances beyond one’s control” are starting to have an impact. The issue of who will be held responsible for the seemingly apocalyptic Coronavirus outbreak in the USA is further exacerbated by the equally depressing state of the US economy and could thus have a significant impact on the outcome of the (re?-)election in November.
Perhaps as a result, recently, Donald Trump, citing a “precedent in Germany”, started talking about the possibility of demanding China compensate the USA for damages caused by the Coronavirus outbreak with a monetary award far exceeding that expected by Berlin. The United States has other potential partners, aside from Germany, who would also like to see the PRC pay for the consequences of the pandemic.
The author is first and foremost interested in the positions taken on this issue by India, Japan and Australia, who together with the USA are the founding members of the (more conceptual for now) security framework called the Quad (an anti-Chinese military and political alliance). Washington has been trying to turn this concept into something more tangible starting in the second half of 2000s. The attempts have not yielded any concrete outcomes thus far, however, Quad ministerial meetings are held regularly.
The fact that the alliance remains in its dormant phase is evidenced by, for instance, the reaction (or more accurately the absence of one) of India and Japan in response to the cue from Washington regarding its intentions to hold China financially responsible for the consequences of the SARS-COV-2 pandemic.
It is worth noting that the nature of relations between Beijing and both New Delhi and Tokyo can be described as “complicated”. Still, it is hard to imagine that either India or Japan would be prepared to take such a clearly unfriendly step at present by claiming compensation, as the USA and Germany are doing, from China for the COVID-19 outbreak.
The distinct position occupied by Australia in the region has been discussed in the New Eastern Outlook on more than one occasion. And it is essentially determined by the nation’s (difficult, from the onset) quest for the right balance between two mutually competing factors. The author is referring here to the fact that Australia’s let us say “stomach” is, for the most part, located in China, while its “soul” is (naturally) in the Anglosphere. In fact, the aforementioned balance is fairly fluid and its nature is directly linked to the party affiliation of the government in office at any given time. At present, the right-wing coalition led by the Liberal Party of Australia is at the helm of power (for the second term). During its rule, the balance has seemingly shifted towards the nation’s “soul” to a certain extent, and this change has been accompanied by some deeds with a negative impact on China. One of the most significant acts was the decision to ban Chinese Tech giants (first and foremost, Huawei) from participating in building Australia’s 5G network in 2018.
According to The Global Times, Scott “Morrison’s adventurism” was not entirely unexpected. And it entailed him making a series of phone calls “to several world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, appealing for their support of Australia’s ‘independent inquiry into ‘the origin and spread’ of the COVID-19 outbreak”. In the opinion of the author of the above article, China was “the thinly veiled target” in their discussions, while money was not mentioned at all, but unregulated “wet markets trading in wildlife” were.
In response, it is impossible not to comment on increasingly frequent anti-Chinese attacks made by (sadly, not only US) “experts on everything under the sun”. Insinuations that “unusual” culinary traditions in China were one of the factors that caused the SARS-COV-2 pandemic appear to be especially unseemly.
It is worth reminding our readers that national cuisine is an integral part of culture, which is shaped over thousands of years and centuries. Chinese people, whose contribution to the global culture is impossible to underestimate, do not need such “lectures” on this particular issue or on any others. And they certainly have no use for demands for monetary compensation either.
It seems that even actual experts do not yet know where the Coronavirus originated and how the contagion subsequently spread. And, at present, answering such questions is not a priority. These issues can be dealt with once a victory against the pandemic has been declared. In fact, the PRC has been urging the world to unite in their fight against the Coronavirus. And Washington is still viewed as one of the key partners in Beijing despite the “attacks” being discussed in this article.
Once the pandemic recedes, the amount of available information that can be used to draw more or less sound conclusions is bound to increase dramatically.
It is also worth reiterating that the current focus on the issue of “who is to blame” for the Coronavirus outbreak stems only from immediate (i.e. for the most part, insignificant and self-serving) political needs.
Still, the increasingly blatant attempts to once again thoughtlessly use any convenient excuse to ostracize the second most powerful nation in the world may have very negative consequences for the global state of affairs.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on issues in the Asia-Pacific Region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.