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The "worst secretary of state" needs a change of heart on China

By Curtis Stone (People's Daily Online)    09:21, April 13, 2020

As the pandemic worsens in the United States, some people are stepping up their attacks on China as a way to deflect criticism. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been one of the most vocal critics of China since the coronavirus outbreak. Jackson Diehl, the deputy editorial page editor for the Washington Post, argued that his insistence to associate the virus with China shows that the administration places more value on scoring a rhetorical point against China than on working with others. This obsession is dividing the world at a time when we need greater unity.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (Photo/Xinhua)

Pompeo, who Diehl called "among the worst secretaries of state ever" due to his pandemic performance, really does seem to be in a senseless crusade against China. While Pompeo may have dropped the stigmatizing language in public statements after President Donald Trump pulled back from associating the coronavirus with China in a push for cooperation, he continues to use every opportunity to blame China for the administration's poor response to the crisis. The dedication to affixing blame to China shows that, while there have been a few changes in words, there has been no change of heart.

With much of the world in lockdown because of the coronavirus, what matters now is finding ways to come together for the good of this global battle. Slinging mud at China will not make the US immune from the virus, neither will it change the fact that the Trump administration failed to take the coronavirus threat seriously early on. The result of that failure is that the United States now leads the world in the number of coronavirus infections and deaths.

While there is an aspect of competition in China-US relations, the pandemic is not a time to go on a China-bashing spree, as this creates even more problems. The threat of the coronavirus and stigmatizing language has led to an increase in racism around the world, especially toward Asians. The British science journal Nature highlighted this point in an editorial, writing that the pandemic is fueling "deplorable racism and discrimination," and it apologized for erroneously associating the virus with Wuhan and with China in its news coverage, writing, "That we did so was an error on our part, for which we take responsibility and apologize."

That statement reflects more than a change in words. It reflects a change of heart, and it is an example for others to follow. Viruses infect all humans, regardless of place or nationality, and all of us must be on guard against the disease of racism. Throughout the pandemic, the World Health Organization has sounded the alarm about the dangers of associating a deadly new disease with a place or a people. Just recently, the director-general of the organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned against politicizing the coronavirus unless "you want to have many more body bags."

That harsh statement by the director-general of WHO is a chilling reminder that the coronavirus presents a threat to everyone on the planet. Regardless of who you are or where you are, we are all in the same boat.

The coronavirus has had a brutal impact on the world, and many countries are still fighting tooth and nail to get control of the situation. This is particularly true in the United States right now. According to data by Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the virus, there are nearly 1.8 million confirmed cases worldwide, and the United States represents about 30 percent of that total.

It is easy to play blame games, but scientists and medical experts still have many questions surrounding the origins of the new coronavirus. We should not rush to judgement for political reasons. We have all heard the old adage that correlation is not causation. As China has pointed out, being the first to report the outbreak does not necessarily mean that the novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China. The fact that the virus has infected a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York shows how quickly it can move around between species. It also shows how little we know about the virus.

We should also keep in mind that many of the people who are eager to link the virus directly to China are the same people who are more than happy to portray China as the boogeyman of the world. Pompeo is one of them, but others also see opportunity in this crisis to cast China as the enemy. Bill Maher, host of HBO's Real Time, recently went on a racist rant against China over coronavirus, saying "we should blame China" and that the virus has "everything to do with China," and US Senator Tom Cotton still refuses to let go of the conspiracy theory that China may have produced the virus in a weapons lab.

Emotions or agendas should not take the place of scientific conclusions, especially at a time of crisis. Politicizing the coronavirus will do nothing but worsen the already grim situation, not just in the United States, but also in the world as a whole. Viruses know no borders, thus working together is the only way that we will succeed in this fight.

History has shown that China and the United States can come together in a time of crisis. In 2008, the collapse of the US' fourth-largest investment bank, Lehman Brothers, created a huge economic disaster, but it also opened a door to cooperation. Henry Paulson, US Treasury secretary at the time, praised China's cooperation in taming the turmoil and expressed hope for more dialogue with China. "It is clear that China accepts its responsibility as a major world economy that will work with the United States and other partners to ensure global economic stability," he said.

The financial crisis is old news now, but the coronavirus has opened another door to cooperation. It would be a tragedy if we squander the opportunity by using the coronavirus as a political weapon to score cheap points.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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