Deteriorating U.S.-China Relations Don’t Bode Well for the Pandemic
Global problems need global cooperation
This was not a good week for U.S.-China relations. On Tuesday, the White House ordered China to close its consulate in Houston. By Friday, China had retaliated by ordering the closure of the American consulate in Chengdu. The U.S. Justice Department also recently accused Chinese hackers of trying to steal data on a coronavirus vaccine, the latest in a long line of allegations of Chinese espionage.
Meanwhile, the number of cases in the United States passed a grim milestone: 4 million. A bright spot on the horizon is that four of the 165 vaccines currently in development are in Phase 3 trials, according to New York Times data. Two of them are made by Chinese companies, state-owned Sinopharm and the private company Sinovac Biotech. There’s only one vaccine already approved for limited use, and it’s been developed by China’s CanSino Biologics. The Chinese military approved it on June 25 as a “specially needed drug.”
When President Donald Trump was asked on Tuesday whether his administration would collaborate with China on a vaccine for Americans, he said: “We’re willing to work with anybody that is going to get us a good result.”
But the deteriorating relationship between the two superpowers doesn’t bode well for the potential of the U.S. to do so. And it generally doesn’t look good for vaccine development, or for either country’s response to Covid-19. “People’s health on both sides could become collateral damage,” Yanzhong Huang, PhD, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells the Medium Coronavirus Blog. Trump says he will work with China, he notes, “but there’s no plan, or I don’t think there’s any conversation happening with the Chinese.”
Acknowledging that relations between the two superpowers were already straining in recent months, Huang says that “Covid-19 only accelerated that process” on multiple fronts. Including, he notes, “this issue of vaccine development and distribution.” China not only has vaccines in development but plays a critical role in the global pharmaceutical industry.
“It’s not just the way vaccines become available,” he says. “You need to consider the parallel…