Trump’s re-election strategy: Blame China

March 30, 2020 14:35
US President Donald Trump needs a new strategy to turn the public’s attention from the economic slump and his poor management of the coronavirus outbreak, says the author. Photo: Reuters

After Bill Clinton’s successful presidential election campaign of 1992, one of his advisers was asked why his man had won. “It’s the economy, stupid” was the famous reply of James Carville.

Donald Trump was counting on the same strategy to give him a second term in November and defeat a Democratic party split between two candidates, both at least 77 years old.

All was looking good until Jan. 20, when the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the United States – a 35-year-old man who had returned from Wuhan. Now the US has the largest number of cases in the world. It is facing a recession and large-scale unemployment not seen since the Great Depression which swept a Republican president out of the White House in 1932 and installed a Democrat there for 18 years.

Suddenly, Trump needs a new strategy to turn the public’s attention from the economic slump and his poor management of the epidemic.

That strategy has now become clear – China is to blame.

“China endangered the world by suppressing information about the coronavirus outbreak and thus allowing it to spread worldwide,” wrote Woody Johnson, US ambassador to Britain, in an opinion piece in The Times last week.

“Had China done the right things at the right time, more of its population and the rest of the world might have spared the most serious impact of this disease.”

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, uses the phrase “Wuhan virus”. He said that the G7 nations – Britain, Italy, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the US – shared a common view that the Chinese Communist Party had engaged in a disinformation campaign to try and deflect from what had really taken place.

Beijing angrily rejects this narrative and terms like “China virus” or “Wuhan virus”. It says that the origin and causes of the virus remain to be investigated and determined by scientists.

It points to the draconian measures it took in Hubei province from Jan. 23 that dramatically slowed the spread of the disease. Many countries in Europe are now copying exactly these measures.

On March 26, Beijing said that it had provided aid to 89 countries and four international organizations, including test kits, face masks, protective clothing, goggles and ventilators, and sent medical experts to Iran, Iraq, Italy, Serbia and Cambodia to help them fight the virus. This aid and personnel are warmly welcomed by these countries, which are seriously short of them.

President Xi Jinping said last Thursday that China and the US should work with other members of the G20 to prevent a global recession.

But that is not the narrative that Trump and his campaign team want the US electorate to hear. They are touting one of the main successes of his four-year term as the "disengagement" from China, reversing the policy of every US president since Richard Nixon (1969-1974).

Last week Trump signed The Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act, a law passed with strong bipartisan support. It requires the administration to reward third countries that have strengthened or upgraded relations with Taiwan.

Last week the US conducted a missile test drill in the Philippine Sea for the first time, close to the South China Sea. The TAIPEI Act and military drills enraged Beijing.

Trump argues that China does not play fair in international trade and distorts its economy with large state intervention and price manipulation. He wants US firms in China to move their manufacturing back home or to other countries.

To convince people to vote for him, Trump needs a big enemy to blame for the economic misery and human suffering ahead.

Beijing needs a big enemy, too. It has much to hide in its management of the epidemic. Why did it conceal the news for so long? According to official media, four doctors died of the virus in the Wuhan Central Hospital. How many medical personnel died in total?

All the evidence points to the virus originating in Wuhan and the eating of wild animals, a common practice in the mainland. Why was the hygiene not better in that city's Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market?

A spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, Zhao Linjian, twitted that US soldiers may have brought the virus when they took part in the World Military Games in Wuhan in October. He offered no evidence for this.

The claim was ridiculed overseas but widely believed at home. Many see the US involved in policies and conspiracies of all sorts to prevent the rise of China.

However devastating the epidemic is, it has not brought China and the US together. It has become another tool in their conflict.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.