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Wednesday, Jun 16, 2021

Coronavirus: former US officials implore Washington and Beijing to work together on pandemic

Statement urges setting aside frictions: ‘The focus should be on finding the resolve to work together to contain and defeat the virus’. Appeal follows weeks of recriminations between officials in US and China over origins of the virus and the two countries’ handling of the outbrea

A coalition of almost 100 former high-ranking US officials and scholars have called on Washington and Beijing to put competition and acrimony on hold while working together to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

“No effort against the coronavirus – whether to save American lives at home or combat the disease abroad – will be successful without some degree of cooperation between the United States and China,” the signers, including former cabinet secretaries, past US ambassadors to China and ex-senators, said in a statement released on Friday.

The appeal followed weeks of recriminations between officials in Washington and Beijing over the origins of the virus and the two governments’ handling of their countries’ outbreaks.

US President Donald Trump has accused the Chinese government of costing the rest of the world time to prepare by initially playing down the severity of the contagion, and this week endorsed accusations that China had under-reported its case figures.

While China had “much to answer for in its response to the coronavirus”, the 93 signatories of Friday’s statement said that a global review of the outbreak’s origins, as well as the conditions and institutional failures that allowed its spread, should come at a later date.

“For now, as the pandemic sweeps the globe, the focus should be on finding the resolve to work together to contain and defeat the virus at home and abroad,” they said. “Millions of lives in both countries and around the world will depend on it.”

Citing China’s capacity to produce medical equipment, the lessons learned by its medical workers and the potential for cross-border collaboration on the development of a vaccine, the statement contended that “the logic for cooperation is compelling”.

The letter was organised by the Asia Society’s Centre on US-China Relations and the 21st Century China Centre at the University of California, San Diego.

Among its bipartisan roster of signatories were numerous past cabinet secretaries, including Madeleine Albright, secretary of state during the Clinton administration; several former Trump administration officials; and three ex-US envoys to Beijing: Winston Lord, Jon Huntsman and Max Baucus.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has killed close to 55,000 people worldwide and infected well over 1 million, has become yet another flashpoint in a US-China relationship already strained by the trade war, quarrels over 5G technology and military chest-thumping.

Facing the prospect of a US death toll over 100,000 and a collapsing economy, Trump has deflected all criticism of his administration’s response, and for over a week last month insisted on calling the pandemic the “Chinese virus”.

He has since walked back from that language and this week – despite saying he believed that China’s official case numbers were “on the light side” – spoke effusively of a recent phone call with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

“Even with all the distrust and disharmony, it is possible for the leadership in the United States and China to find the necessary common ground to combat the coronavirus,” said Kurt Campbell, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and a signer of the statement. “The American people deserve no less.”

Friday’s plea came in the wake of a similar appeal this week from across the Pacific.

In an open letter published on Thursday in The Diplomat, some 100 Chinese scholars and former diplomats called for an end to “political bickering” and for a more focused effort by both governments to cooperate against Covid-19.

Susan Shirk, the chair of the 21st Century China Centre, said that global challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic required “global solutions, which must involve coordination between the world’s two largest economies.”

“Other nations will be hesitant to act unless they are convinced the United States and China are on the same page,” she said.


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