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Time for US to stop scapegoating China

By Martin Sieff | China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-25 07:17

China Daily

In this time of global pandemic, cool heads and nerves and serious, sustained international cooperation are crucial. Instead, the US administration and Congress are plunging wildly into a potentially catastrophic full-scale confrontation with China.

The atmosphere in Washington today is chillingly reminiscent of the hysteria sweeping across the city's political society six years ago. In 2014, Russia vowed to safeguard its people and interests after democratically elected Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in a violent coup, ostensibly backed by the European Union and the United States.

The very same US forces and individuals who had rushed to demonize Russia then are doing the same now against China. It is clear that China did not unleash the novel coronavirus on itself or the world. The idea of using a biological weapon when your own country and people are the first to suffer from it is simply absurd.

The Americans should have studied the measures China has taken to halt the spread of the virus and largely bring it under control. Instead, there was endless jeering in the US with media outlets claiming China's measures were cruel, anti-democratic and totalitarian when they were nothing of the kind. Ironically, when the pandemic hit the West, many Western countries implemented the very same measures.

In the US, the Republicans and Democrats blame each other instead of trying to work together for the common good. The US president, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Republican Party are trying to use the fear and confusion created by the coronavirus pandemic to push the US on a collision course with China. This move is ruinous today and will be suicidal tomorrow.

China and the US are economically interdependent, to the benefit of both, as the US president acknowledged before the epidemic broke out. As such, his trade negotiations with China, despite the exaggerations and threats, should be seen as an attempt to shift the terms in the US' favor.

Today, however, we see something far worse. The bills inexorably making their way through the US Congress are, like the economic sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014, designed to pressure and cripple China. If passed, they would make a US-China "Cold War" inevitable, destroy trans-Pacific relations, and lead to something far worse.

As veteran British commentator Alistair Crooke wrote in Moscow-based Strategic Culture Foundation, "Relations with China are condemned to drop off a cliff. Pending are the 'Uyghur Human Rights Act', and the 'COVID-19 Accountability Act'-both awaiting passage into law." The "COVID-19 Accountability Act", Crooke says, if passed, would allow the US president 60 days to certify that China has fully accounted to an independent body, such as the UN, for the circumstances in which the virus arose; has closed all its highest-risk wet markets; and has released all Hong Kong "democracy activists", recently arrested.

These conditions reflect a shoot-from-the hip judgmental arrogance of both wings of the US Congress which beggars belief-along with a breathtaking disregard for facts, science and due process, especially because the allegation that the novel coronavirus originated in a wet market is worse than an uneducated guess.

It would be far better for American people-and those in the rest of the worldif the Congress demanded that the US administration increase, rather than stop, funding to the World Health Organization and join hands with China to contain the virus.

The real giveaway in the proposed bill, as Crooke rightly says, is its demand for the release of all "democracy activists" in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. This has nothing to do, even remotely, with the business of fighting the virus. In fact, it is a flagrant intervention in the domestic affairs and national security of a sovereign nation.

How would Republican and Democrat congressmen react if China, similarly, demanded that the US free violent protesters, criminals or convicted terrorists? How would the US respond to demands from Iran, China or Russia that it act in a more democratic manner toward its own people? The White House would instantly reject such demands and the outrage in the US would extend from the east to the west coast, and from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border.

Yet if China doesn't meet those outrageous demands, the US president would be authorized to impose sweeping sanctions on China, including an asset freeze, travel bans, visa revocations and even blocking Chinese businesses' access to the US banking system and capital markets.

The strategy of seeking to divert public anger over the US administration's failure to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak at home is an obvious and desperate ploy, which is bound to backfire. But it may cost many lives and threaten global peace.

The two US political parties would do good to bury their differences with China-and with each other-in order to fight the virus, which is the true enemy threatening us all.

The author is a senior fellow at the American University in Moscow.

The views are those of the writer and don't represent those of China Daily.

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