Commentary on Political Economy

Friday, 20 March 2020

Donald Trump right to criticise, Beijing was slow from the get-go’

Chinese President Xi Jinping wears a mask as he visits Huoshenshan hospital in Wuhan earlier this month. Picture: AFP
Chinese President Xi Jinping wears a mask as he visits Huoshenshan hospital in Wuhan earlier this month. Picture: AFP
China’s slow response to the COVID-19 crisis deprived the world of up to two months to gear up for the pandemic, experts say.
As the US and China square off over both sides’ handling of the COVID-19 crisis, several Australian China-watchers have lent weight to President ­Donald Trump’s criticism of ­Beijing.
John Lee, a US Studies Centre senior fellow and former policy ­adviser to foreign minister Julie Bishop, said it was “factually true’’ that China had robbed the world of precious weeks to prepare.


“The Chinese knew about this strain of virus in mid-December but they didn’t admit that it was a problem until the end of January,’’ Mr Lee said. “For domestic reasons they didn’t want to admit they couldn’t control a potentially serious ­problem.’’
Mr Trump has become increasingly critical of China over its ­efforts to contain the virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. “It would have been much better if we had known about this a number of months earlier,” Mr Trump said.
The coronavirus was first disclosed to the World Health ­Organisation on December 31, 2019. Mr Trump initially praised China’s efforts to slow the spread of the virus, but as pressure ­mounted on his own administration’s handling of the pandemic he has become increasingly sharp in his comments towards ­Beijing.
Mr Lee said the Chinese government’s “spray’’ at other countries, who in the early stages of the pandemic placed bans or restrictions on travel out of China, ­reflected self-interest on Beijing’s part. “China has also gone on the PR offensive on other countries, ­including the US,” Mr Lee said. “They’re now openly mocking the dysfunction and failures of Western democracies.”
Australian Strategic Policy ­Institute executive director Peter Jennings said while he objected to Mr Trump’s language, the US President was not without a point in criticising Beijing.
“There was a period of denial where there was really a problem,’’ he said. “Had China been more open and collaborative we might have had an extra four weeks to get ­ourselves ready internationally for the crisis. China has been pretty unhelpful in characterising stopping people arriving from China a racist act, when it was in fact an essential health measure.’’

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