Trump’s “blame China” campaign is an effort to dodge responsibility
President Donald Trump, along with many U.S. media outlets, were eager to criticize China for being "draconian" in its initial coronavirus response, but now accuses the country of not doing enough. Here, Trump speaks during a joint press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, , Nov. 9, 2017, in Beijing. | Andy Wong / AP

First, China was doing too much to stop the coronavirus. Now, United States media and government officials are saying it didn’t do enough.

I’d ask them to make up their minds, but that would require a degree of rationality I’m not sure they have—assuming they ever did.

The latest feint in the “blame China” crusade (a campaign with hundreds of incidents and a one-page playbook) is to claim China minimized the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak during its initial weeks in Wuhan, Hubei province. This, they assert with zero proof, left Western governments complacent and ill-equipped for the inevitable day the virus reached their borders.

As you might have come to expect by now, this is 100% bogus

While it is true local officials could have done more in the outbreak’s infancy to curb the spread, such as banning large gatherings, the central government took decisive action the instant it became aware of the gravity of the situation. Dr. Zhang Jixian at the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine informed hospital administration of common symptoms she was seeing in families on Dec. 26, when cases numbered in the dozens.

This was then passed up the chain according to procedure. By Dec. 31, the national-level Center for Disease Control and Prevention had notified the World Health Organization of the likely existence of a new coronavirus, and the U.S. CDC was directly informed as early as Jan 3. The virus was fully sequenced by Jan. 12, with the data immediately made public so the world would have as much information as possible. These are not the actions of a government conducting a devious cover-up.

Once human-to-human transmission was confirmed on Jan. 21—previously only limited human-to-human spread among close relations had been conclusively proven—drastic measures were taken in Wuhan, Hubei, and soon the entire country. Cities and neighborhoods were put on lockdown, new hospitals were built to treat severe infections, and facilities were seized for centralized quarantine of mild or asymptomatic cases. Movement tracking and widespread testing reined in everyone infected or potentially infected and determined who needed what level of care, if any.

That was over two months ago

Can anyone honestly say there was deliberate downplaying of the enormity of the outbreak when the government went to such extremes to contain it? Does anyone really believe this contradictory messaging, or are they desperately trying to save face as the virus ravages the U.S.’ already broken for-profit healthcare system?

In reality, the people doing the downplaying were the U.S. government and media. In the early days of China’s outbreak prevention, you couldn’t read an article in the Western press that wasn’t decrying it as “authoritarian” or “draconian,” or trotting out that old chestnut, “human rights violations.” All these accusations implied the danger of the virus did not warrant such an overwhelming clampdown.

President Donald Trump himself dismissed concerns, saying the U.S. had things under control as late as March. There was a concerted effort to paint the epidemic as a “Chinese problem,” which they declared was exacerbated by the country’s political and economic system—no evidence of any kind to back this, of course. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross went so far as to say the virus would “accelerate the return of American jobs” from overseas. Leave it to the U.S. to try and squeeze economic gain out of a deadly pandemic.

But in news to no one, they have all been proven cataclysmically wrong. China’s response worked, and countries facing outbreaks have modeled their own containment efforts after China’s—some more reluctantly than others. At present, new daily cases in China number in the dozens, with the vast majority being imported from overseas. The U.S.-based Science Magazine called the scale of the anti-virus offensive “unprecedented” in a recent study, and calculated a 96% reduction of potential infections directly attributable to the actions of the Chinese government.

Meanwhile, things are looking dire in the U.S. Millions of Americans have been laid off as businesses have been belatedly closed to prevent further infection—the only thing “accelerating,” to use Secretary Ross’s words, is applications for unemployment benefits. Had officials and the media taken warnings from China and elsewhere more seriously, they could have been better prepared.

Instead, precious time bought with the blood, sweat, and tears of the people of Wuhan has gone to waste, and the U.S. death toll continues its precipitous rise. There shouldn’t be any doubt that this new round of finger-pointing is meant to give a scared, angry populace a foreign “other” to blame, a convenient scapegoat to deflect outrage from those actually responsible for the present calamity.

It didn’t have to be this way. Instead of waging informational warfare in the middle of a pandemic and denigrating China at every turn, the U.S. could have put aside petty disagreements in the interest of public health. It could have lifted sanctions straining health systems in countries like Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela, sanctions that cause thousands of deaths even in ordinary times. It could have pledged to share essential medical materials, technology, and expertise with countries in need. It could have worked with China, site of the first major outbreak, to figure out best practices and adopt proven strategies to protect ordinary people and not just the wealthy and powerful. It could have made testing and treatment free, as China did, to find the infected and provide them the care they need to survive.

Unfortunately, this would require the United States government to be a very different kind of state—one that prioritized human need over profits and didn’t build the biggest hoard in history through exploitation and plunder. Such a place would be completely unrecognizable to those living there now, and indeed to a world which has suffered under U.S. hegemony for the better part of a century.

Disappointing as it is to see baseless accusations leveled during an unprecedented emergency—a moment when the planet should be united—it should not come as a surprise. There is no tragedy too great for the U.S. ruling class to politicize, no disaster too horrific to be leveraged for selfish purposes. A cliché done to death in Western writing is pointing out the Chinese characters for “crisis” and “opportunity” are identical.

Irony of ironies: It’s the U.S., not China, who’s been treating them as one and the same.


Ian Goodrum
Ian Goodrum

Ian Goodrum is a writer and digital editor for China Daily in Beijing, China.