U.S.-China relations have spiraled since President Trump took office in 2017, and tensions continued to mount this week as the COVID-19 crisis intensifies across the globe. A new Pew Research Center survey shows that negative views of China in the U.S. have continued to grow, with roughly two-thirds of Americans now saying they have an unfavorable view of China, up nearly 20% since the start of the Trump administration. In line with the souring views, the State of Missouri became the first to sue China over the effects of the coronavirus, saying the country silenced whistleblowers, deceived the public, and did "little to stop the spread of the disease.' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang called the move for legal action "very absurd".
Likely compounding negative views in the U.S. is a new report that China spread disinformation about the coronavirus in the United States in March when widespread concerns were just beginning to surface in the country. U.S. intelligence officials claim that Chinese operatives helped circulate false rumors that the country was going into a mandatory, military-backed quarantine. The Chinese Foreign Ministry called the allegations "complete nonsense and not worth refuting," and has separately rebutted persistent U.S. criticisms, saying, "We urge the U.S. to stop political manipulation, get its own house in order and focus more on fighting the epidemic and boosting the economy." Read "Pandemic and Political Implications" on China-US Focus for more on COVID-19's far-reaching impact.
As U.S.-China tensions rise, China announced that it would increase funding to the World Health Organization by $30 million, bringing its total funding to $106 million. The move follows Trump's announcement last week that the U.S. would halt funding to the WHO, over mounting pressure that the organization is "very China-centric." According to the WHO website, the U.S. provided 14.67% of the organization's budget in the 2018-2019 period, whereas China gave just 0.21%.
The United States coronavirus death toll has hit 50,000, whereas mainland China reported no coronavirus deaths for the first time since the pandemic began and a drop in newly reported cases, and the city of Wuhan continues to carry on since its lockdown was lifted earlier this month. However, Harbin, a city in northeast China, is facing a spike in confirmed cases, leading China to ban all nonresidents and outside vehicles from residential areas of the city, saying that the new infections likely came from infected Russians traveling into the city.
While coronavirus cases seem to be tapering off, China is now focusing on getting its economy under control. China's economy contracted by 6.8% last quarter, the first contraction China has seen since at least 1992 when records first started being published. Hubei province, where the virus first appeared, reported a 39.2% decline in economic output for the first quarter compared to the same time last year, largely driven by a manufacturing slump. Other Chinese companies showed bleak economic data, including airlines and luxury fashion brands, although numbers have improved since the lockdown was lifted. Unemployment in China has also spiked in the wake of the pandemic, with 50-60 million service workers and 20 million in industry and construction unemployed at the end of March.
While the world reels from the effects of the pandemic, China may be attempting to strengthen and solidify its position in the South China Sea. China declared two new districts in the region as part of Hainan province this past week. The new districts will govern Xisha (Paracels Islands) and Nansha (Spratly Islands) and their adjacent waters, disputed areas where there are multiple overlapping claims.
The move unsurprisingly drew ire from the other claimants of the territory, which include Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and other countries. The Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary took to Twitter to condemn the move as "violations of international law and Philippine sovereignty."
Along with its creation of two new districts, China also allegedly pointed a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship, and reports indicate it may have been tailing a Malaysian oil drilling ship for the past few months. U.S. and Australian ships entered the South China Sea this week amid rising tensions.
Prepared by China-US Focus editorial teams in Hong Kong and New York, this weekly newsletter offers you snap shots of latest trends and developments emerging from China every week, while adding a dose of historical perspective.