In what can only be described as an explosive year, the relationship between the two largest economies in the world has become frigid. With both countries pointing fingers and making speculative claims about one another; the United States (US) and China have reached an all-time low in their already volatile relationship.
Throughout the past two years we’ve witnessed a trade war between the US and China; this pandemic has only heightened tensions. The beginning of the year brought about the promise of an ease in the deadlock between the countries. With President Trump and the Vice Premier of China, Liu, signing a long-awaited trade deal. However, just days before the signing, China was labelled a ‘currency manipulator’ by the US. And yet, souring relations just before the signing of the trade deal was only the start of this years’ punching match.
Their relationship has been further challenged by Covid-19. When the pandemic erupted, not even the name of this virus was safe from politicisation; with President Trump repeatedly referring to the Coronavirus as the “Chinese virus”; something the Chinese government has fervently condemned. To make matters worse, while China attempted to stop the spread of Covid-19; the US questioned the outbreak as an “alleged cover-up”, starting a blame-game with China. At loggerheads in this sparring match, only tactful dialogue and diplomacy could change the tone. China however, decided to retaliate by trading blows regarding “misinformation” and xenophobia. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has even stated that it was the US who had unleashed the virus in China; without any evidence as to the credibility of such a claim.
Alternatively, April bore a different tone. Both countries decided to ‘cooperate’. This cooperation would have provided the US with the medical supplies it desperately needs; and China with the support it has been lacking from other countries around the world. As China deals with mistrust over the outbreak – and the US faces a serious lack of supplies – an exchange of necessary equipment for some trust and support may have been in both countries’ best interests. Though, it did not take long for this ‘truce’ to expire as Trump cut funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO), citing the WHO’s ‘bias’ toward China as the main reason for this. This move halted the chance for cooperation and mutual gain which is still greatly needed during this pandemic.
Of course, this too caused China to retaliate, sending 13 US journalists back to their home country. A move to be expected since the US had already done the same earlier in the year to Chinese journalists. China also demanded US news outlets, such as TIME, to explain what their operations in China entailed. This bullying of the citizens and businesses of the opposing country is not a new strategy, especially not when considering US–China relations.
The worst-case scenario for now, seems to be the use of a vaccine against one another. It may come to pass that China or the US create the first vaccine to successfully combat Covid-19. When this happens, the vaccine could possibly be used as a pawn in a much deadlier game. As of now, both countries, and many around the world, are tirelessly rushing toward the inception of a cure. To what extent these nations’ efforts to find a vaccine are motivated by saving human life or by a desire to beat the other side to a self-designated finish-line, can be argued.
At least one thing is apparent in the way that the US and China have fared in 2020; both sides are to blame for their relations reaching rock-bottom. In this relationship, where unpredictable attacks and retaliation reign supreme, there is no clear picture of the future capacity in which these countries will deal with one another. It is to be expected, however, that we will see further hostility from both sides.