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SPF China Observer

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No.25 2020/04/07

The effect of the spread of COVID-19 on the US-China political warfare and the international order

Bonji Ohara (Senior Fellow, The Sasakawa Peace Foundation)

Introduction

  The spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has begun to have an impact even on the international order. China responded forcefully to US criticism of its handling of the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and it strenuously denied the claim that China was the origin of the virus. At the same time, however, China offered aid to countries that were experiencing problems as a result of the virus. China then began to sing its own praises, claiming it was the savior of the world. The countries that suffered as a result of the spread of COVID-19 were certainly appreciative of the support they received from China. This support had the potential to be used by China as influence over those countries. Thus, one could characterize the spread of the coronavirus as providing China with an opportunity to increase its support throughout the international community.

  At the same time, however, the spread of coronavirus not only poses a threat to human life in countries around the world, it has also fragmented the supply chain that supports the global economy and, as a result, it has inflicted a great deal of damage on economies throughout the world. International community may, therefore, once again need China’s help. Economic vitality is a source of power, and can itself be a kind of power. Therefore, this may be the optimal time for China to support other countries, given that it has enormous economic influence. However, because China was the source of the coronavirus outbreak, there is a growing trend in Chinese society toward demanding that China take responsibility for the outbreak, and this has placed moral and ethical pressure on China, and limitations on China’s influence.

  In addition, it is possible to view China’s aggressive economic stimulus measures themselves negatively. Following the worldwide economic crisis that occurred in the fall of 2008, China implemented an economic stimulus package worth 4 trillion Chinese yuan (approximately 57 trillion Japanese yen at the time), which was heralded at the time as functioning as the “savior of the world.” However, this policy caused rapid increases in the debt held by regional governments and national state-owned enterprises in China, which in turn led to after-effects such as the real estate bubble. Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, launched a two-pronged policy of fiscal reconstruction and structural reform of the economy, but increased trade friction between the US and China led to a prolonged slowing of economic growth in China. As indicated in the Government Activity Report issued by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the assembly of the National People’s Congress in March 2019, the Chinese government had no choice but to implement further economic stimulus measures through additional investments. China, therefore, needed to avoid an impending crisis, and it quite naturally wanted to avoid an accumulation of risks that would cause it even more damage over the medium- and long-term.

  China wanted to deflect US criticism and increase its influence over countries around the world. However, China’s intentions were complex, and the actions taken by both the US and China had a mutual effect on the relationships of the two countries that increased tensions; they also had a complex effect on international community. In this paper, I will analyze China’s foreign policies—including its statements made to other countries—regarding the coronavirus outbreak, and I will discuss how they affected the US-China political warfare as well as what effect they had on the global order.

China’s stance toward the US

  An article released on the website of the Xinhua News Agency on March 4, 2020, seems to have communicated the Chinese intention to shift responsibility onto the US by saying that US criticism of China would lead to Chinese dissatisfaction, and isolation of the US from international community. The article was written in response to the declarations of emergency in the US states of Florida, California, and Washington. It suggests that, based on the spread of the disease throughout the United States, the US government may have been underreporting the number of people infected with COVID-19 and stated that there was doubt around the world regarding the figures the US government was releasing.[1]

  The article did not mention that China suppressed information about the spread of the virus in Wuhan, nor that its actions lead to the explosive spread of the disease. Instead, it focused on US attempts to conceal information, which made it appear to be the source of the spread of the virus.

  In addition, the article stated, “If China were to prohibit travel from China to the US, the US economy would suffer serious damage.” It went on to state, “If China were to prohibit exports to the US as an act of retaliation, declare that travel to the US was prohibited, and strategically manage its medical supplies by prohibiting their export to the US, then the US would fall into a sea of coronavirus.” Moreover, it stated, quite intimidatingly, “Over 90% of all pharmaceuticals imported into the US have some connection to China. At this time, if China simply prohibited the export of these goods to satisfy domestic demand, the US would fall into a long-term coronavirus hell.” It then pointed to US criticism of China and demanded that “the US needs to apologize to China for its many mistakes” and stated, “The origin of the novel coronavirus was not necessarily China, and therefore China has nothing to apologize for,” thus indicating the stance that China takes absolutely no responsibility for the spread of the coronavirus.

These claims instigated the animosity of the US and the countries of Europe.[2] The actual numbers of those who have died as a result of COVID-19 at the end of March were approximately 12,400 in Italy, approximately 8,400 in Spain, approximately 3,800 in the US, and approximately 3,500 in France.[3] Each of these numbers exceeds the approximately 3,300 in China who died of the virus, which underscores the gravity of the situation around the world. It is certainly no mystery why countries such as the US and the nations of Europe that were faced with such a dire predicament would feel resentment at being told that they would “be dropped into a hell of coronavirus if China halted the export of pharmaceuticals” and that they should “apologize.”

  On the other hand, the fact that China attempted to avoid taking any responsibility itself and instead criticized the US—even going so far as to make intimidating statements—may show how distressed China was at having been criticized by the US. It also masks that China is growing a sense of crisis. There was doubt over the number of deaths reported by China as well. On March 31, Wuhan, in Hubei Province, reported that the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 was 2,548, but, based on the high number of bodies, it is believed that this number is far too low.[4] At the start of the spread of the disease, the number of deaths involving “suspected cases” that did not undergo coronavirus testing due to practical limitations was not included in the total number of deaths. The US Intelligence Community also submitted a report to the White House that contained the same information.[5] If claims that the number is actually higher are accurate, China is afraid of being isolated from the international community as a result of US criticism, which would explain why they manipulated the data, suppressed the numbers of infected and dead, and tried to justify themselves by strenuously criticizing the US.

The US-China media war

  China is actively using the media to insist to the international community that its actions have been justified. In the US, President Trump is attempting to minimize these efforts by China through the use of the phrase “the Chinese virus,” but this draws attention to the extent to which the US fears—consciously or unconsciously—the increased support for China in the international community.

  China has made little attempt to hide the traces of their information manipulation, to the extent that the US does not even have to point it out. The Chinese leadership was aware of the spread of a novel form of infectious disease in Wuhan by late 2019, and they were fully aware of the seriousness of the disease. The Chinese PLA Navy Engineering University Security and Communications Division issued a document on January 2, 2020, indicating that due to a novel form of pneumonia the university was essentially closed down.[6] This document, entitled “Restrictions on the entrance of outside persons into the University as a measure to manage and prevent the spread of a pneumonia of unknown origin,” stated that “the National Health and Hygiene Committee has sent specialists to Wuhan and is providing operational guidance.” This suggests that prior to January 2, the Communist Party of China already was aware of the seriousness of the “novel pneumonia” outbreak, as they knew of both the closing of the university and the dispatch of specialists from the National Health and Hygiene Committee. In other words, prior to the start of China’s active efforts to control novel coronavirus, the Chinese leadership had already known about the “novel pneumonia.”

  The Chinese leadership first indicated that it was attempting to control COVID-19 in late January 2020. One example is Huoshenshan Hospital, a field hospital whose operation was handled by the People’s Liberation Army as of February 2. The hospital was constructed over the course of only 10 days, with workers who gave up their long spring vacation to work 24-hour shifts to complete it on time. It was, therefore, an extreme example of “rush construction.” Three days after completion of its approximately 1,000 bed capacity facility, it began receiving patients. The fact that its operation was transferred to the People’s Liberation Army was announced by China Central Television and other media outlets. A video documenting its construction was released on a social media site and was viewed by large numbers of people.[7]

  However, the release of information by the Chinese leadership seemed to come too late. As pneumonia caused by the spread of COVID-19, a movement demanding freedom of expression from the Chinese government also began to spread within China. By February 12, 2020, a letter sent to Premier Li Keqiang that insisted that the spread of this new type of pneumonia was a “man-made disaster” that was inviting “the suppression of freedom of speech” had received the signatures of over 360 university professors and lawyers.[8] The letter was released in response to the death of Dr. Li Wen-liang. He alarmed over a new type of pneumonia at the end of 2019, when he was taken into police custody and eventually died after infected Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) himself.

  The letter stated that the infection had spread as a result of “the people being deprived of their right to know,” and it demanded that officials apologize for their handling of Dr. Li and it included a demand that the people be allowed to speak and conduct activities freely. The letter was addressed to Premier Li Keqiang and to Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress—the number two and three people in the Chinese Communist Party hierarchy—as well as “All our fellow citizens.” Among those who signed the letter were professors from Peking University and Tsinghua University, as well as lawyers whose work focused on human rights. Prior to this letter, another professor at Tsinghua University had released a separate letter in which he strongly criticized the leadership over their handling of the novel pneumonia problem and demanded freedom of speech.

  The Chinese Communist Party feared they might lose authority, and thus criticism of the Chinese leadership from within China could not be tolerated. However, the criticism that the Chinese Communist Party feared was not only criticism within the country. China also feared criticism from the international community, and the isolation from the international community that such criticism might lead to. China had already experienced this kind of isolation from the international community in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, and with the emergence of conservatives within the country, there were increasing efforts to reinstitute a controlled economy, which led to a period of stalled economic growth. Therefore, China could not allow the US to criticize it over its handling of coronavirus disease. China reacted with ferocity to US criticism, and the resulting reaction by the US led the two countries into what could be called a “media war” phase.

  On February 18, 2020, the US Department of State announced that it considered five major Chinese media organizations, including Xinhua, to be “foreign government functionaries.”[9] In addition to Xinhua, the Chinese national foreign language broadcasting station CGTN as well as China Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s English-language newspaper, were also named. These Chinese media outlets were required to report basic data on their employees, including those hired in the US, their hiring and firing data, and information related to the employees’ assets, as are all foreign embassies and consulates located in the United States.

  China immediately launched their counterattack. On February 19, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece entitled, “China is the real sick man of Asia.” In response, China expelled three reporters of that paper from China due to what it called the “racially discriminatory” nature of that article.[10] The spread of coronavirus disease was a major political problem for General Secretary Xi Jinping, who flaunted the Chinese Communist Party’s ability to achieve “The Chinese Dream of The Great Rejuvenation of The Chinese Nation”, because it caused a deterioration in the Chinese people’s faith in the Communist Party’s ability to do this very thing.

  On March 2, 2020, the Trump Administration—in a move that seemed to be in response to China’s measures—announced that the five media organizations that the US considered “propaganda organizations” of the Chinese Communist Party would have caps placed on the number of reporters they could have posted in the United States.[11] The US government demanded that the 160 Chinese reporters who were in the US at that time be reduced to 100, a directive that went into effect on March 13. China responded immediately to the announcement of this measure. On March 3, China criticized the US government’s cap on the number of reporters and others affiliated with Chinese media organizations in the US as “hypocritical,” implying that China may implement countermeasures.[12]

  At the regularly scheduled press conference held on March 3, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated that the US, which “used a Cold War era way of thinking and showed ideological bias” when it set a cap on the number of Chinese reporters and that “the US is putting political pressure on Chinese media organizations operating in the US.” He also stated, “We reserve the right to respond.” Then, on March 18, the Chinese announced that they were rescinding the press passes of US reporters affiliated with the three major US newspapers.[13] The Chinese Foreign Ministry demanded that all US citizens working for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post return their press passes within 10 days—passes that had been due to expire at the end of 2020.

  US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated, “Everyone knows that we believe everyone has freedom of the press, but in China there is no such freedom.” He further emphasized that the US measures would not have an effect on the independent media but rather on those employed by “Chinese propaganda organizations.” Secretary of State Pompeo also cautioned that China was attempting to reduce “the capacity for all of us to understand what’s happening” in China. The US was criticizing China’s suppression and manipulation of information, and the fact that they were not providing accurate information while other countries were faced with crises caused by the spread of coronavirus disease.

  China, believing that a media war with the United States would not be beneficial, appealed to other countries for support. For example, on March 22 the Supreme Leader of Iran, Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, refused assistance from the US as the COVID-19 outbreak continued to spread throughout the world because, he said, he did not trust the US, as it had manufactured the virus in the first place.[14] This statement fell perfectly in step with the Chinese assertion that “the US military may have introduced the coronavirus in Wuhan.” The countries that support the Chinese government tend to have had a longstanding anti-US position, but in this case, it is conceivable that they were mainly concerned about China’s economic influence over their nations. However, the effects of COVID-19 reached even China’s economic power.

The effect on the Chinese economy

  According to China Central Television, at a meeting held on March 27, 2020, the Chinese Communist Party acknowledged that the Chinese budget deficit was increasing and that in response it had decided to implement a policy of aggressive fiscal mobilization. At this same meeting, they displayed a sense of crisis, noting that “Chinese economic development is facing a new challenge,” and that they would “implement more aggressive fiscal measures and increase the deficit rate to an appropriate degree.”[15]

  The spread of COVID-19 caused damage to the authority of Xi Jinping in a variety of ways. Xi was criticized even within China, as it was thought that his suppression of information had caused the virus to spread. The Chinese Communist Party was most wary of increasing dissatisfaction among the Chinese people. Although dissatisfaction in China was growing as a result of the spread of the virus, the greatest source of dissatisfaction was the worsening economic situation. Once people begin to feel that their daily lives are being negatively affected, their dissatisfaction will bubble over, and this in turn may lead to social destabilization.

  The fiscal reconstruction and economic structural reforms that Xi was attempting were likely to have the most effect on those with vested interests. Those with vested interests in an authoritarian regime are mainly the leaders and those related to them. To rein in those in positions of authority, Xi would have to seize even stronger authority than he already has. The implementation of Xi’s plan to execute “even more aggressive fiscal measures” designed to compensate for the economic damage done by the spread of COVID-19 may lead to a decrease in Xi’s authority. The spread of coronavirus disease, therefore, may have an effect on the domestic Chinese power balance as well as the economic development of China.

  In fact, the Chinese economy is worsening. According to British media sources, the official Chinese Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for the month of February was 35.7%, a sharp decline of 14.3% over the previous month, and a new record low. When the PMI is under 50%, it indicates that the manufacturing sector has entered a slump. Once these figures were released, the Chinese media was awash in terms like “sudden drop” and “worst ever.” The PMI figure for the service industry, which was released some time after this, was even worse.

  The data that was publicly released between January and February indicated that manufacturing, consumption, and investments had all fallen by at least two digits. The added value of companies in the manufacturing industry fell 13.5% year-over-year (YoY), retail sales of consumer goods fell 20.5% YoY, and fixed assets investment fell 24.5% YoY. These three data points were all record lows. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) told the BBC that the Chinese GDP for the first quarter of 2020 had shrunk 7% YoY, and that the annual growth rate of the GDP was likely to experience a major fall from 5.4% to 2.1%. It further indicated that the future recovery of the Chinese economy was unlikely to be V-shaped but rather U-shaped.[16]

  The director of the National Institute of Financial Research at Tsinghua University stated that “the per capita GDP in China had just exceeded 10,000 yuan and China had just begun this year to move toward becoming a high-income nation.” Thus, the COVID-19 outbreak occurred during an important period for China, during which it was poised to extract itself from the “trap of being a middle-income nation.” The spread of coronavirus disease led to a sense of crisis that China’s continuing economic growth might be impeded. Since Deng Xiaoping launched the Reform and Openness Policy, China utilized the benefit of increases in the working-age population to develop its low-added-value manufacturing sector on a large scale while at the same time constructing massive amounts of infrastructure, which supported the rapid economic growth of the country. However, this “low-hanging fruit” had been picked clean.

  Xi had insisted that the effect of COVID-19 on the Chinese economy would be limited and that it posed no problems for the Chinese economy. Xi stated the following at the Conference for the Prevention and Control of the Spread of the Novel Pneumonia and the Unified Promotion of Efforts to Develop the Economy and Society:

It is unavoidable that the spread of the novel pneumonia is going to have a major impact on society and the economy. But in such a time as this we need to maintain a comprehensive, demonstrable, and long-term view as we look at the development of our nation; we need to increase our faith and remain strong. Looked at comprehensively, there is no change in the basis on which the long-term development of our country’s economy rests. Thus, the effects of the novel pneumonia outbreak will be short-term and we will be able to maintain overall control of the situation. We will change the pressure we experience into energy to mobilize and seize this chance to recover order in production and in daily life. We will intensify our “Six Calming Measures,” and once we increase our ability to coordinate policy, we will be able to release the enormous potential power and vast physical energy of our country, which will allow us to realize the economic and social targets for this year.”[17]

  The “Six Calming Measures” he mentioned in his remarks refer to stable employment, finances, trade, foreign currency exchange, investment, and expectations. The underlying idea here is that the Chinese economy is a vast ocean, and that a storm may be able to upset a small pond, but it cannot upset a vast ocean.[18]

  The assertion that COVID-19 would not have a major effect on the further development of the Chinese economy actually seems to be a sign that there is a sense of crisis in China over the negative impact it has already had on the Chinese economy. Xi was not rejecting the notion that the spread of COVID-19 would have a negative impact on the Chinese economy. Rather, he seemed to be saying that the Chinese economy would be unable to avoid a short-term slump caused by the spread of the disease, and therefore China would have to be prepared for the potential long-term aftereffects. It is likely that he was wary of implementing the kind of economic stimulus measures that helped pull the world economy out of the slump experienced in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis.

  Under these circumstances, for China to avoid being isolated from the international community, it would have to use its economic and other forms of influence to increase support around the world for itself. To maximize its influence on other countries without resulting in a negative impact on its own economy, China could provide economic and medical assistance to other countries within a range that allowed it to maintain control, emphasizing its role as a savior of other nations through an aggressive media campaign aimed at the outside world.

Chinese heroism

  China aggressively sent out two messages. One was aimed at its own populace and portrayed Xi as the hero who got COVID-19 under control, while the other was aimed at the rest of the world and portrayed China as the savior of countries around the globe that were suffering from the spread of coronavirus disease. This was done to increase support for the Chinese Communist Party both at home and abroad.

  On March 10, 2020, Xinhua reported that Xi visited Wuhan and observed efforts there to control and prevent the disease during the important period of time when the first resistance and counterattack was being launched.[19] Xi praised those in the Party organizations, Party members, and medical professionals in Hubei Province and Wuhan who were fighting the virus, and he called the people of Wuhan heroes for sacrificing themselves to make important contributions to the fight against the disease. He also stated that the spread of “the novel pneumonia” had basically been stopped and that efforts to control and prevent the disease were gradually improving.

  This same article emphasized that, while Xi had praised Party members and the citizens of Hubei Province and Wuhan, it was Xi himself who had taken the initiative to lead the fight against the disease. Xi met and had friendly exchanges with staff and patients at Huoshenshan Hospital; he consoled members of the military and Party members who had been involved in the pneumonia task force in Wuhan; he went into the streets of the city and kindly asked shop owners how they were doing; and he traveled through a residential area where he observed how the residents were handling the crisis. A photo of this portion of the visit was included with the article. Media outlets in the US and elsewhere reported on these activities, emphasizing their view that the Chinese government was portraying Xi as a hero.[20]

  According to Xinhua, on March 29, Xi went to the city of Ningbo in Zhejiang Province where he observed the resumption of operations at port facilities and at an industrial park. Xi’s tour of Ningbo came after his aforementioned tour of Wuhan. The Chinese Communist Party emphasized that COVID-19 had been contained with an eye toward promoting a resumption of domestic economic activities. China Central Television released video on the Internet that showed Xi walking along a wharf in the port of Ningbo-Zhoushan without a mask, in an apparent effort to demonstrate that Xi had ended the spread of COVID-19 within China. The industrial park he toured was the location of a concentration of manufacturers of auto parts destined for the overseas market; his visit there seemed to be an attempt to emphasize the contribution he had made to the international supply chain, which had been disrupted as a result of the coronavirus disease outbreak.[21]

  On the domestic front, these reports insisted that Xi was a hero who brought the spread of COVID-19 under control; on the international front, they disseminated the image that China was the savior who protected the world from a global economic crisis through the public release of a type of strategic statements made by Xi. If the strategic statements released by the Chinese leadership were successful, then China would increase its economic influence regardless of the actual situation in China while the US was still suffering the spread of COVID-19. This economic influence would then allow China to build support among countries that were struggling with economic and medical problems, which would result in the formation of a “China bloc.” This in turn could cause in a shift in the international order.

  Even if China’s intention to emphasize itself as a savior who rescued countries around the world from the COVID-19 crisis in an effort to gain support for itself is clear, China is in fact providing aid to countries faced with a crisis, and those countries in fact are grateful for the support. In addition, as a variety of supply chains—such as in the automobile industry—are largely dependent upon China, and if production in China is not normalized, the auto industry and other industries in Japan, Europe, and the United States will suffer negative consequences. The spread of COVID-19 has led to a reaffirmation of Chinese economic influence on the international community and has provided China with the conditions necessary for the world to accept an expansion of its influence.

Conclusion: The intensification of the US-China political warfare, and the possibility of a change in global leadership

  The increasing criticism of China by the Trump administration underscores the increasing influence that China has on the international community, and increasing US alarm at that notion. On the other hand, China cannot allow other countries to align themselves with the US in criticizing China because that would put China’s responsibility into question, which in turn would result in China being isolated from the international community. To avoid this, China is demanding the support of other countries that are under its economic influence, and it is thereby working toward building a “China bloc.” According to a media reporter who has covered the US government, the US is angry even at China’s efforts, successful or not, to build this China bloc.

  The critical back-and-forth that the US and China are engaged in has caused an escalation of rhetoric in both countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has instigated an increasing sense of crisis in both countries, which in turn has spurred their criticism of each other. The war of words between the US and China has developed to the point that it has now included the international community, and thus the pandemic has disrupted peaceful relations not only between the US and China but also in the international community.

  As noted above, while the media war—the so-called “war of words” between the US and China—has intensified, it is only superficial. What lies behind this verbal clash between the two countries is a more fundamental shift. On March 11, President Trump announced that entry into the US by people from 26 European countries, including Italy, would be restricted. Shortly after this, on the 16th, Xi called Italian Prime Minister Conte to inform him that China would send additional medical teams to his country. China also sent aid to Iran and Serbia.[22]

  This was a symbolic gesture that exposed the contrast between the way the US and China are dealing with the international community. In addition, it was also an expression of the information war being fought between China and the US behind the scenes. While the US was rushing to implement domestic measures against COVID-19, China was providing aid and support to countries that were in crisis. The pandemic served as an unprecedented stress test for the political systems of the countries of the world. Under these circumstances, the issue of who was the first to provide aid/support was of extreme importance.

  The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a period during which a structure that might be termed the “US-China New Cold War” became established. The US and China were attempting to split their markets economically; they were preparing for the potential war in the Asia–Pacific region by expanding militarily, including nuclear weapons; and they were engaging in a clash of values and ideologies—and it was at this time that the pandemic occurred. China already possessed a certain amount of influence in the international community, and it planned to utilize the crisis to increase that influence. The US, on the other hand, was increasingly wary, and as a result, the intensity of the US-China political warfare was on the rise.

  However, China is currently indispensable in the fight against COVID-19. The medical data and experience that China has is essential for the countries currently facing a crisis as a result of the spread of coronavirus disease. In addition, China is one of the major manufacturers of many medical devices, as well as personal protective equipment such as masks. China is well aware of this state of affairs, and as a result seems to be using it to expand its influence. However, the failures of the US are also serving to advance China’s efforts in this regard.

  According to US experts, the legitimacy of the US leadership rests on three factors: domestic governance, supplying the world with public good, and the ability and intention to moderate and settle international crises. The COVID-19 pandemic is testing all three of these elements of US leadership, and up to this point the Trump administration has failed these tests. The Trump administration considered the spread of COVID-19 in China as a perfect opportunity to show the superiority of the democratic political system and to advance its “America First” policy. However, at present it is the US that has sunk into a crisis, despite being the global leader. For its part, China is rushing to fill the vacuum created by the lack of global leadership that has occurred because of the US’s current predicament. Therefore, it is possible that China establishes itself as the global leader of the response to the pandemic.

  For the US to regain its superiority over China, it will likely attempt to engage China in an even more intense political warfare. The political warfare in which the US is already engaged with China has entered a stage in which the US completely rejects the Chinese political system. The problem is the extent to which the countries allied with the US will fall into step with it. Both Japan and the countries of Europe are showing alarm over a shift in the status quo caused by China’s authoritarian political system and its power, but economically they are unable to completely cut ties with China. Certainly, no country desires excessive military tensions with China.

  Even if the origin of the COVIT-19 outbreak is in China, and its information control spurred the further spread of the infection, China's image strategy and strategic communication are beginning to pay off in part, and as a result a number of countries have come out in support of China. Moreover, realistically, China has become an essential power in the fight against the new coronavirus. Nevertheless, for China to become the global leader, it must first deal with its own economic circumstances. After defeating COVID-19, the international community will likely anticipate Chinese support in the effort to revive the damaged global economy.

  At the present stage, China has succeeded in setting the international community's expectations of it. However, it remains unknown whether China can actually institute large-scale economic stimulus measures. If it does implement the kind of economic stimulus measures that were implemented following the 2008 global economic crisis, then Chinese economic development may suffer negative consequences. If the Chinese economy is negatively impacted, then for the Chinese Communist Party to maintain its authority, it would have to both intensify its domestic control of the freedom of speech and depend increasingly on nationalism. If these circumstances arise, then alarm regarding China will increase in the countries allied with the US, which in turn may lead to a renewed strengthening of their cooperation with the US.

  The COVID-19 pandemic has had the effect of making countries around the world aware of a potential change in the global leadership. A large number of factors are involved in whether or not leadership roles are shifted from the US to China, and this shift is not yet an established fact.

  If Japan and the countries of Europe begin to work together to pursue their own national interests rather than committing their futures to the major power game between the U.S. and China, the international structure will become more complex.

  The pandemic is contributing to an ever more intense US-China political warfare, but whether the result is the formation of two major blocs, a US bloc and a China bloc, or a change in global leadership, the importance and presence of countries other than the US and China is likely to increase.

(Dated Apr 6, 2020)

1 ゛理直气壮,世界应该感谢中国” 新华社March 10, 2020, (http://www.xinhuanet.com/2020-03/04/c_1125660473.htm, last accessed on March 29, 2020).

2 “US and China in war of words as Beijing threatens to halt supply of medicine amid coronavirus crisis,” The Independent, March 13, 2020 (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/coronavirus-china-us-drugs-trump-rubio-china-virus-xinhua-hell-epidemic-a9400811.html, last accessed on April 1, 2020).
“China Threatens to Throw America 'Into the Mighty Sea of the Coronavirus,” The National Interest, March 8, 2020 (https://nationalinterest.org/feature/china-threatens-throw-america-mighty-sea-coronavirus-130877, last accessed on April 1, 2020), etc.

3 “Death toll may reach 200,000 in the US, over 400,000 throughout the world: Novel coronavirus” Jiji-Tsushin April 1, 2020.(https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2020040100173&g=int, last accessed on April 1, 2020)

4 “Doubt over the officially released death toll in Wuhan as ‘suspected’ cases are not included, large numbers of urn: China” Jiji-Tsushin April 1, 2020, (https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2020033101092&g=int, last accessed on April 2, 2020)

5 “China Concealed Extent of Virus Outbreak, U.S. Intelligence Says" Bloomberg April 2, 2020, (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-01/china-concealed-extent-of-virus-outbreak-u-s-intelligence-says, last accessed on April 2, 2020)

6 “诡! 武汉肺炎春节才知道? 中共元旦隔天就封闭武汉海军工程大学" 呷新闻 February 2, 2020, (https://www.eatnews.net/article-1/20200216-2, last accessed on March 8, 2020).

7 “The Wuhan novel pneumonia hospital completed on the tenth, approximately half the size of Tokyo Dome" Asashi Shimbun DIGITAL February 2, 2020, (https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASN227TTJN22UHBI01G.html?ref=newspicks, last accessed on March 8, 2020).

8 “Increased demands for ‘freedom of speech,’ approximately 400 intellectuals release letter: China" Jiji Tsushin February 12, 2020, (https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2020021200925&g=int, last accessed on February 15, 2020).

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