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Foreign Policy

We’re All in the Same Boat

Apr 29, 2020
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread at an exponential rate around the world. As of April 17, confirmed cases had climbed to more than 2 million worldwide, including 650,000 in the United States. Meanwhile, in China, the number of total cases was 84,156. Risks persist although the virus has been effectively contained in the country.

From the 1918 Spanish flu to the SARS and Ebola plagues of the 21st century, pandemics are painful memories burned into the collective memory of humanity. Now, as the novel coronavirus spreads, people in China, the U.S. and beyond find themselves in the same boat.

The coronavirus is our public enemy. In the human world, a public enemy may be social or natural. In the 1940s, Chinese and American people joined hands to defeat fascism, a public enemy to human society. Now they come together against COVID-19, a public enemy from nature.

American citizens and businesses provided considerable assistance in the wake of the outbreak in China. Now, as the virus spreads across the United States, China has responded by offering medical supplies and materials and by sharing its expertise in medical treatment. Members of the public have been impressed by the generous donations of many social celebrities on both sides of the Pacific, including Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, and Jack Ma, founder of

“Containing the global pandemic, like bolstering the global economy, depends on U.S.-China collaboration. If climate change is the world’s most intractable chronic problem, then COVID-19 is the world’s most severe acute problem,” Robert Lawrence Kuhn, a renowned China expert in the United States, wrote in the South China Morning Post on March 26.

Both the United States and China face challenges posed by the coronavirus, and they should work together to strengthen cooperation against the pandemic, Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a phone call with U.S. President Trump on March 27. 

The novel coronavirus knows no border or race. “This virus is nasty. It will cross borders and cross states,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. This is quite true. The virus does not respect national borders. And neither should our compassion. Regardless how rich or strong, all nations and all races must be united to win the battle against the virus whose grave consequences prove once again that we humans live in a community with a shared future.

Global responses against the pandemic also attest to the popularity of the ideal of a community with a shared future. Since life is precious, saving lives is the top priority of every nation and every government. As they work together in the fight against the virus, China and the United States need to respect science and cherish every life. Most important, both countries must do everything possible to protect their people and the global population at large from more harm.

The pandemic is ferocious and we must have the courage to meet the challenge through cooperation. In fact, cooperation is the only way forward. It is not just about the safety and health of a nation but global public health. On March 20, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it’s estimated that the health crisis infecting the world will cost the global economy at least 1 trillion dollars. Consequently, more than ever before, governments around the world must join hands to revive their economies.

Global cooperation can be launched on many different fronts. The priority is to develop drugs and vaccines, especially a miracle drug to stop transmission and ultimately rid the world of the coronavirus. China and the United States can access their respective strengths in this regard.

Now the world is at a critical moment in the fight against the virus. Obviously, the global response must be led by the World Health Organization, an authoritative body in the health sector. It has played an irreplaceable role in coordinating anti-pandemic efforts, advising member countries on public health security policies and skills training, and enhancing multilateralism in global public health governance. When Trump declared he would halt funding for the WHO, he made an unwise decision that needs to be reversed. 

The fight against the pandemic may become a prolonged global war that requires tireless ongoing efforts. When a virus from nature attacks the human world, we humans must take on the challenge while at the same time learning to live at peace with nature. In addition, we should not hurt each other when we are confronted with the same enemy.

The Chinese and American people are now in the same boat sailing a turbulent sea. We need to show each other compassion and understanding and remove misunderstanding. This virus is cunning, cruel and deadly, and we must strive to defeat it wisely. Although its origin remains unknown, our cooperation should not be hindered. Stigmatization does not make sense. As long as we respect science and professionalism, we will eventually identify the source. 

As we know, no single country can meet global challenges on its own. One cannot wall oneself off from the world. This is a hard truth. When people in China, the United States and the wider world join hands and leverage their strengths, they can surely defeat the virus, turn crisis into opportunity and build the better tomorrow that we all seek.

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