That COVID-19 will be on the ascent in the near future seems probable if not inescapable. In the face of a crisis of such serious global proportions, one would expect that the two biggest economies in the world, the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, would be the voices of reason, consequence, and counsel as we grapple to contain a menacing difficulty. Alas, that is not the case. The temperament of the current American administration and that of China seems to be dangerously unhelpful considering the threat that now imperils the world. Some people cannot help but look, wistfully, at how some leaders of yesteryears managed to work in concert, keenly aware that theirs was a battle to safeguard a world they deemed worthy. The conduct of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin during the Second World War poses the starkest difference to what is currently obtaining between the US and China, the two countries currently perched at the zenith of the economic pecking order.
Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin had vastly divergent worldviews. Roosevelt, for example, was uncomfortable with Great Britain’s colonial empire. He was also uncomfortable with communism in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). These two concerns pitted the US, to some extent, against Churchill’s Great Britain and Stalin’s USSR. Churchill was also an outspoken critic of communism and there was unveiled animosity between his government and that of the USSR. However, the three leaders realized that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime and ideology posed a greater threat to world peace and Western civilization than did their antithetical political sympathies. From 28 November to 1 December 1943, the three leaders met in Iran at the now celebrated Tehran Conference at which they hammered out an agreement that endorsed Operation Overlord, a military endeavour that all but stymied Nazi advances and eventually led to the complete defeat of Nazi Germany.
Today, the world is faced with yet another calamity that should summon the efforts and talent of those best placed to offer counsel to the expectant world. Naturally, the US and China, like the US, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union 76 years ago, are expected to offer moral example to the rest of the world. Of more consequence is the fact the two countries have actually been heavily affected by COVID-19 and hence their efforts would not be merely altruistic; they would be essential to save the lives of their own citizens. Unfortunately, the conduct of the two countries thus far does not inspire confidence in the rest of the world. Judging from the manner that Donald Trump acceded to the presidency, it was expected that he would not change a formula that secured his victory against what seemed to be impossible odds. His campaign message in 2016 was laced with outspoken isolationism and racial innuendo. He also inveighed against what he thought was America’s lopsided trade relationship with China which, he argued, was unfairly in China’s favour. The most recent continuation of his bizarre nationalism manifested itself in his referring to COVID-19 as “the Chinese Virus.” Predictably, this has excited that ire of the Chinese government.
For its own part, China has also made costly mistakes. For example, when cornered about why he kept calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus”, Trump argued that China started it by alleging that American troops are responsible for introducing the virus to China. Even without attacking Trump’s puerile logic, China’s claims have scarcely been buttressed by evidence. In addition, China’s decision to expel journalists from three US newspapers will only fuel misgivings about that country’s opacity and reticence on matters that are of international consequence. One might even wonder that, in its bid not to look ill-prepared or inept to combat COVID-19, China could actually be downplaying the severity of the virus within its borders. The country’s irritable conduct toward foreign media is hardly helpful in the fight against a fast-spreading threat. What, then can the rest of the world do, except to say prayers that the US and China realize the error of their current conduct?
Well, the US-China tiff could inspire the rest of the world to realize that maybe not much premium should be put on countries that enjoy economic superiority and political clout. After all, medical practitioners are advising that fighting COVID-19 will largely depend on compliance from all people. Compliance comes in the form of adhering to advice on personal hygiene and social distancing. In a world where the ablest players are embroiled in a doomed tit-for-tat enterprise, it might fall to the rest of the world to accept that perhaps it is on its own. Even within the rest of the world, perhaps prevention and containment of COVID-19 will depend on individual discipline because the chances of another Tehran-like conference are painfully remote.