The Wuhan coronavirus epidemic is increasingly threatening to become a new element of friction – one more – in the complicated relations between the United States and China. Beijing has made clear its unease about the way Washington has reacted to the biggest catastrophe in the Asian country in years. Measures such as the suspension of flights or veto travelers from China only serve, according to the Government of President Xi Jinping, to “create and spread fear.”
It is the second time, in just three days, when Beijing has made its irritation clear by what it considers an exaggerated reaction of the first power. This Monday, in a press conference offered through the Internet -as part of the measures to prevent agglomerations and prevent contagions-, the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hua Chunying, accused Washington that, in addition to giving the hint of exit to a world race to close borders and air traffic, “has not yet offered any substantial help to the Chinese side.”
The epidemic is still far from being controlled in China. The dead already add up to 425, more than the 348 that the SARS left in this country in 2003. The infected are already more than 19,000, of which at least 2,296 are in serious condition, according to figures released this Tuesday first thing.
And it will have lasting consequences. This Monday, the National Reform and Development Commission, the almighty agency responsible for economic planning in China, acknowledged that it will leave a serious negative effect on the country’s economy, especially in the consumer sector. In its reopening after the lunar New Year, the stock market crash despite the Central Bank’s promise of a liquidity injection of 154,000 million euros to alleviate the effect of the epidemic served as an advance: the main indicator of the Shanghai Stock Exchange , the SSE, fell more than 7.7%, the biggest crash since 2015, while the second Chinese parquet, that of Shenzhen, lost 8.41%.
But in the official data signs of hope begin to appear, to which Beijing and Chinese citizens cling and that state media spread enthusiastically. The number of recovered, 477 according to the numbers of the National Commission of Health, surpasses from this weekend the one of deceased. Cases of contagion outside Hubei, the focus province of the epidemic, have also declined for two days, a possible indication that the drastic measures imposed by the central government against the spread of the virus begin to take effect.
These “green shoots” feed Beijing’s anger at how the United States has responded, with too much rainfall from their point of view. The commercial and technological war, paused after the signing of a first phase agreement in December, convinced the Xi Government that a new “cold war” has begun, in which Washington’s ultimate goal is to prevent the rise of China . Beijing now interprets the behavior of the United States. UU in this epidemic as another attempt to try to weaken it. The White House responds that its behavior is due to public health reasons.
“In a globalized world, the destinies of all countries are closely linked. In the face of a public health crisis, countries should collaborate to overcome difficulties instead of resorting to impoverishing the neighbor, much less taking advantage of the difficulties of others, ”Hua said. Over the weekend, the spokeswoman had already said in a statement that Washington’s actions “are not a gesture of goodwill.”
USA UU, which has confirmed nine infections on its soil, was the first country that announced that it would repatriate its nationals trapped in Wuhan, the origin of the epidemic, after that city of eleven million inhabitants imposed a sudden quarantine on the 23rd that blocked All your accesses. So far it has evacuated about 200 citizens, mostly consular officials, and hopes to organize a second rescue operation.
From this Sunday, and after declaring a “public health emergency”, their borders are closed to any foreigner without family ties with citizens or permanent residents of the US and who has been in China in the two weeks prior to their arrival (fourteen days is the maximum incubation time). In addition, US airlines have also temporarily suspended their flights, at least until the end of March.
The US president, Donald Trump, said in an interview with the Fox News television network that “we have offered tremendous help (to China), we are the best in the world for that. But we cannot have thousands of people entering that they could have this problem, the coronavirus. ”“ Basically, we have made the closure so that it does not enter from China. ”The White House has also regretted that Beijing has not accepted, so far, its offer to send public health specialists from its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Beyond reproaches, coronaviruses may have other effects on the relationship between China and the United States, experts warn. The economic impact of the crisis and the attention it demands from Chinese leaders can complicate Beijing to meet the commitments of sharp increases in its imports of agricultural, energy and manufacturing products from the US. “Travel restrictions and border closures will at least ballast the logistics to meet those objectives,” says analyst Michael Hirson of the Eurasia Group consultancy, in a note.
If the epidemic motivates a prolonged decline in the price of the yuan against the dollar – these days it has crossed the key border of seven yuan per dollar – “Trump can resume his criticism against China about its exchange rate policy,” he says. Hirson