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Foreign Policy

What Should be Done? What Shouldn’t?

Apr 20, 2020

 (Compiled from a webinar by Tsinghua University’s Center for International Security and Strategy)

In March, Tsinghua University’s Center for International Security and Strategy and the China Development Research Foundation jointly hosted a webinar on the COVID-19 pandemic and and cooperation between China and the United States.

It featured some 20 renowned experts and scholars from both countries. Lu Mai, secretary-general of the research foundation made opening remarks, and Fu Ying, the chair of CISS, presided over the first part of the seminar. The second part was presided over by the U.S. side.

The participants analyzed the current global anti-pandemic campaign, acknowledging that the epicenter had moved again, this time from Europe to the U.S., and the situation is extremely grim.

The Chinese scholars shared their country’s experiences, in particular how it has shared what it learned during its difficult fight against the virus — knowledge it gained gradually. They also informed the meeting of China’s current efforts to prevent imported cases and a possible rebound of infection, as well as its progress toward a resumption of normal social and economic activities.

The American scholars talked about the pandemic in their country. Some were concerned that the exponential growth in infections would last a long time and said the U.S. needs both information and logistical assistance from China.

Some scholars said that if COVID-19 became a long-term phenomenon worldwide, preparations would need to be oriented toward an 18-month time span, with 40 to 60 percent of humanity becoming infected. One should not be overly optimistic about success in the development of vaccines and specific drugs, they said.

Should the pandemic find its way in succession to multiple inadequately equipped countries in the Southern Hemisphere, the possibility of its staging a comeback in the Northern Hemisphere this fall and winter in an ongoing cycle alternating between the two hemispheres can’t be excluded. In such a scenario, all the three major centers of global economic activity (East Asia, North America, Europe) will face a sustained threat. The shock will be comprehensive and all-encompassing, and combined with economic, social and political factors, the public health crisis will constitute a major global crisis unprecedented in human history.

Some Chinese scholars have observed that as the global economy has suffered blows on both the supply and demand sides and sunk into recession, most economies won’t be able to hold on for long, and attention must be paid to the danger of the pandemic in turn accelerating China-U.S. decoupling in the technology and manufacturing sectors.

Some American scholars estimate that the U.S. economy will contract by 10 to 25 percent in the first quarter and further shrink by 20 to 30 percent in the second quarter. The Chinese scholars participating in the webinar also said they expected economic growth in the first half of the year to fall short of the target.

The participants generally acknowledged that the pandemic presents tremendous challenges for China-U.S. relations and is exacerbating a deteriorating trend that started before the outbreak. Following the special G20 summit on March 26 and the phone conversation between the presidents of the two countries the next day, however, bilateral ties have stabilized to some extent and shown some prospects of improving. The two sides should seize the opportunity, carry out substantive and effective collaboration and lead the world in anti-pandemic cooperation.

Scholars from both sides agreed that understanding of the novel coronavirus remains limited and no country is immune, let along capable of overcoming it alone. They said China and the U.S. should forsake their enmity, reject politicization and shelve their differences to concentrate on containment of the coronavirus and provide leadership for others in the fight against this global threat. Doing so would reinforce the confidence of the world and ultimately lead to triumph over the virus, they said.

The participants put forward concrete recommendations on how China and the U.S. could cooperate. The first priorities are stopping the blame game, avoiding moves that provoke the other side and ceasing to view individual efforts to contain the pandemic as “strategic competition.” They called for building consensus on the need to pool their anti-pandemic efforts through collaboration at all levels.

As the world’s two largest economies, China and the U.S. also share the responsibility for leading the world not only in easing and gradually working their way out of economic recession but preventing a historic depression. For this purpose, they need to coordinate their respective use of policy tools. They should lower tariffs and other trade barriers and avoid protectionist policies and other decoupling moves so as to preserve the stability and smooth operation of global supply chains.

Based on the proposals and recommendations of the webinar participants, Tsinhua’s CISS compiled the following list — for reference by decision-makers — of what what to do and what to avoid. 

Recommendations of  Chinese and American Scholars 

  • What not to do 


1. Discontinue the blame game between officials and media outlets based on disinformation, and refrain from making hostile remarks. To this end, restrain officials and direct their attention toward cooperation on containing COVID-19. 

2. Do not use the name of a specific city or country to refer to the new virus. Do not make remarks against certain ethnic groups. Stop stigmatizing the other side with respect to COVID-19. 

3. Eliminate political speech and behavior in contacts with the other side when dealing with professional, technical and trade matters related to countering the pandemic. 

4. Do not promote any single, exclusive model for fighting COVID-19. Encourage and support all countries in fighting  the pandemic in ways suitable to themselves. 

5. Don’t take advantage of the pandemic to disrupt global supply chains or force businesses to move back to home ground.  Officials should not make remarks that could stimulate decoupling which may bring unnecessary shocks to the world economy and disrupt supply chains. 

6. Do not treat the development of vaccines and clinical drugs as part of a power competition. Reject zero-sum ways of thinking when advancing measures for the international fight against COVID-19. 

7. Don’t provoke the other party by words or actions on hotspot issues. Do not take any action that may make the other side think you are taking advantage of its precarious situation or trying to gain a strategic advantage. 

8. Do not allow the release of negative diplomatic or military information that undermines the fight against COVID-19, or at least try to reduce such information. Do not engage in provocative military action, such as large-scale military exercises or tests of offensive weapons. Stop cyberattacks and infiltration. The Chinese scholars, in particular, said the U.S. should suspend its reconnaissance and other activities off the Chinese coast. 

9. Do not impede cooperation between government agencies and governments at various levels or between nongovernmental actors. 

10. The Chinese side asks the U.S. Congress to suspend deliberations on legislative measures that China feels constitute interference in its internal affairs. 

  • What to do 


1. Leaders of China and the United States should maintain regular communication, highlight key points of cooperation on COVID-19 and demonstrate leadership by providing guidance on policies and measures to be undertaken cooperatively. 

2. Establish a coordination and dialogue mechanism jointly led by those in the two countries who are in charge of the pandemic issue. On the basis of that, establish a corresponding liaison mechanism at the working level to reduce obstacles caused by politicization and bureaucracy. Cooperation should start with issues that can gain wide support from the public and can be implemented quickly, such as sharing of information and best practices in treating the disease. 

3. Learn from past experience, such as the China-U.S. cooperation against Ebola. Strengthen cooperation at the central and local levels and between disease control departments, medical institutions and pharmaceutical companies and chambers of commerce, professional associations and NGOs. Promote the building of bilateral and global public health partnerships. 

4. Respect experts, giving them sufficient room to play their roles and allowing them to do what they are professionally good at. Encourage and promote personal and team communications. Facilitate visas and travel for medical personnel. 

5. Remove tariffs and other restrictive measures that hinder the flow of medical equipment. Open a green channel for purchases other means of providing medical supplies. 

6. Encourage open-source scientific research results. China and the U.S. may jointly launch databases and share laboratory information to accelerate research and development of vaccines and drugs for fighting COVID-19. 

7. Continue to promote the implementation of the China-U.S. phase one trade deal in a serious manner, including the maintenance of mutual understanding and respect. If implementation is hindered by the pandemic, the two sides should hold consultations as soon as possible to reach a new understanding and agreement, and strengthen their economic cooperation by lowering the tariffs and forgoing protectionist policies. 

8. Advocate global cooperation, with China and the U.S. taking the lead in proposing initiatives under multilateral frameworks such as the United Nations and G20, to establish a common fund, coordinate international cooperation on development, produce and distribute vaccines and ensure that medical research results will benefit the general public. 

9. Cooperate with other major air traffic participants to design routes and ensure smooth global air traffic. Work separately and together to maintain the security and smooth operation of the internet during the fight against COVID-19. 

10. Work toward the establishment of a regulatory system for global public health risk management, and join hands to develop principles and standards for protecting medical staff, patients and medical institutions. Also, develop standards for personal hygiene and the declaration of cross-border travel information and other personal data collection while appropriately protecting privacy. 

11. Acknowledge the possibility of a recurrence of the pandemic — a second or even third wave — and the cross-contamination of the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Work separately and together to establish funds on such platforms as the G20, UN and the WHO and replenish them as required, to help developing countries prepare for and overcome the crisis. 

12. Work together to achieve increased global storage capacity in case of a surplus of medical supplies after the pandemic, and coordinate new production capacity. 

13. Take the lead in urging major oil producers to refrain from actions that disturb the market. 

14. Conduct bilateral and global consultations to avoid the weaponization of biotechnologies. 

15. Start working on an After Action Report to preserve the knowledge and experience of anti-pandemic cooperation.  

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