China’s Global Leadership Amid the Coronavirus Shows the U.S. Has Relinquished a Former Role


Al Jazeera

President Trump of the United States and President Xi of China confront a new leadership challenge amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jack Tsukada, Editor

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As the world is ravaged by the Coronavirus pandemic, one fact has become certain in the age of Trump: the United States is no longer the global leader. With weeks of denial and a befuddled response early on, the Trump administration has not emerged at the forefront of the fight against the virus. Just as the United States’ outbreak emerged as the largest in the world, the president finally abandoned unscientific fantasies (like when he said that deaths from suicide induced by economic depression would outnumber COVID-19 deaths) and committed to encouraging stay-at-home orders through the end of April and beyond. These measures may have been too little, too late. With the United States not emboldened to head the global recovery effort, China has taken on a humanitarian role usually fulfilled by the U.S. 

While the Coronavirus is new, the decline of U.S. global leadership is not. The Trump movement, with slogans like “America First” and “Build That Wall,” has always been popular with a nationalist, anti-globalist crowd, and Trump’s actions as president have put this language into practice. From the ban on immigration from majority Muslim countries to the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, the Trump administration has distanced America from objectives supported by other developed countries. These overtures are unlike that of any recent president, as America has been the dominant free world power for much of the 20th Century. Just by looking at the U.N. and the World Bank, both headquartered in Washington D.C., it becomes clear that the United States is responsible for much of the globalism that Trump supporters resent. 

Although the notion that the United States has relinquished global leadership may be vague, the leadership that another country, China, has taken on during the pandemic is not. As the Trump administration was enacting bans on exports of medical supplies, China pledged to supply two million surgical masks, 200,000 advanced masks, and 50,000 testing kits to Europe, as stated in an article by Steven Lee Myers and Alissa J. Rubin of The New York Times. With its manufacturing economy, China has found itself as the preeminent distributor of supplies critical to other countries’ battle against the virus. 

As the United States backed away from positions of global leadership in the past five years, China under President Xi Jinping has adopted a policy of international expansionism. Through the Belt and Road initiative, a transcontinental infrastructure project, China has forged agreements with Italy and exerted control over the Global South through one sided-contracts that put countries at the behest of China’s foreign policy goals. If China can minimize economic damage inflicted by the Coronavirus, then a world ravaged by recession and disease may increasingly see China as a leader.

While Trump spent the early days of the Coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. playing down the threat, Xi Jinping swiftly ordered Wuhan – the center of the outbreak – to be locked down. This measure could only be possible through China’s authoritarian government, but the comparison of Xi Jinping’s severe preemptive measures to Trump’s unscientific denials is a telling one. 

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