There is no doubt the animosity between the United States and China is now slowly inching to a dangerous level. In his latest press conference, President Trump announced that he is imposing new sanctions on China for their latest action in Hong Kong, and did not mince words when he directly blamed China’s leadership for intentionally spreading the virus to the whole world while protecting other Chinese cities from the virus, confirming US intelligence reports that China intentionally withheld information on the coronavirus which has precipitated strong US action.
Earlier this week, I attended a presentation by the Pew Research Center’s Director of Global Attitudes Research, Dr. Richard Wike. The webinar titled A Changing American Landscape? US Public Opinion and the Pandemic discussed the summary findings from Pew’s latest public opinion surveys conducted in late April and early May.
The survey showed that unfavorable views of China is now at 66 percent, the highest ever since Pew first asked the question in 2005, with 84 percent of Americans saying they distrust information coming from China regarding the coronavirus outbreak. Majority also believe China’s handling of the outbreak has been poor, and that it had the worst response to the pandemic compared to other countries like South Korea that received the highest rating.
Even US legislators now believe China should be held accountable for its failure to provide information that could have helped save the lives of thousands of people. This is evident in the proposed COVID-19 Accountability Act that allows the White House to impose sanctions on China if it refuses to cooperate with international investigators on the origins of the coronavirus.
Intelligence reports are also growing strong that China is taking advantage of the world’s preoccupation with the coronavirus outbreak to increase its military activities in the South China Sea. The US has accused China of “exploiting” its neighbors’ vulnerability and distraction over the COVID-19 pandemic to “expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea.”
The US has accused China of “exploiting” its neighbors’ vulnerability and distraction over the COVID-19 pandemic to “expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea.”
India’s leading Southeast Asia expert, Prof. Baladas Ghoshal, did not mince words, describing China as a rogue and irresponsible nation that is a clear and present danger to the region. In the past few months, there have been several “incidents” involving Chinese vessels in the South China Sea, like the ramming of a Vietnamese fishing vessel near the Paracel Islands and the harassment of a Malaysian drillship and its supply vessels over disputed waters – prompting three US warships and an Australian frigate to conduct joint exercises near the area. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral John Aquilino reiterated US commitment to a rules-based order in the South China Sea, and called on China to “end its pattern of bullying Southeast Asians out of offshore oil, gas and fisheries.”
The approval of the controversial national security law for Hong Kong is seen by many as China’s attempt to tighten its grip on the special administrative region, which could undermine freedom of speech and assembly as well as silence dissidents and the political opposition.
This has drawn condemnation not only from the US but the UK, Canada and Australia, saying it would violate the “one country, two systems” framework and would be in direct conflict with China’s international obligations under the principles of the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration that says Hong Kong’s system will remain unchanged until 2047. Other nations like Germany and Japan have also expressed concern, saying Hong Kong’s autonomy must not be undermined. Taiwan has also added its voice, saying it stands with the people of Hong Kong.
Following US State Secretary Mike Pompeo’s notification to the US Congress that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for an “appropriate response” that considers “all tools available, including visa limitations and economic penalties.”
Over 1,300 US companies have offices in Hong Kong, and revocation of the territory’s special status could affect its position as a global financial hub and as an attractive business destination.
In reaction, China of course is pushing back, with Chinese lawmakers denouncing the proposed COVID-19 bills of the US Congress. Chinese author and retired air force major general Qiao Liang also advised the Chinese leadership to focus on the US as its main opponent. “When you are facing off a gang in a fight, you must first bring down the biggest guy and other opponents will be intimidated,” he said, urging Beijing to neutralize US attempts to prevent China’s rise as a manufacturer.
“When you are facing off a gang in a fight, you must first bring down the biggest guy and other opponents will be intimidated,” he said, urging Beijing to neutralize US attempts to prevent China’s rise as a manufacturer.–Retired air force major general Qiao Liang
Indeed, the trade war plus the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred many US and Japanese businesses to move out of China and look at other nations for their manufacturing requirements.
At the sidelines of the National People’s Congress annual meeting, Chinese president Xi Jinping told People’s Liberation Army officials “It is necessary to step up preparations for armed combat,” and that they should “comprehensively strengthen the training of troops and prepare for war” – indicating that, undoubtedly, tension is escalating to a dangerous level.
Perhaps the tension between China and the US could be abated once a vaccine against COVID-19 is developed. Countries are racing against time to find a vaccine. Several US pharmaceutical companies working closely with German biotech firms are way ahead in testing the vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci is confident a vaccine will be ready by year end. I am in close touch with their representative in Washington.
With the global economy standing on shaky ground, we need to watch developments between the two nuclear powers. As tensions between these two giants escalate – more than ever, ASEAN nations need to be united and work as one.