China-US ideological friction intensifies amid COVID-19

By Ling Shengli Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/19 17:53:40

Photo: GT

China and the US have been hit hard by the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has dealt a heavy blow to the economies of both countries. However, instead of mounting a joint effort to fight the pandemic, the US has chosen to escalate ideological competition by playing the blame game. This decades-old ideological struggle has been profoundly influential, and is now set to generate an even greater negative impact on bilateral ties. The coronavirus could be the likely trigger. 

As China was battling the virus, the Wall Street Journal cast a hurtful, sarcastic tone by labeling China "the real sick man of Asia," and refused to apologize after repeated demands from China's Foreign Ministry. This led China to revoke the press credentials of three Journal reporters in China. 

The US government added fuel to the fire by then designating five Chinese media outlets in the US as "foreign missions" and effectively expelling dozens Chinese journalists. 

On Wednesday China took further countermeasures against the US for placing unwarranted restrictions on Chinese media agencies and personnel working in the US. Beijing's measures require US nationals working for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal to return their press accreditation within 10 days, if their credentials expire before the end of 2020. The newspapers, and Voice of America and Time, are also required to report to the ministry details on their staffing, finances, operation and real estate in China. 

This is a manifestation of the ideological competition between China and the US. The US holds a deep-seated obsession with its ideology, and cannot recognize that other systems and ideologies have merit. The US seems incapable of tolerance and reconciliation, when it comes to the ideological differences between China and the US.

During the Cold War, the US adopted all-round suppression of China solely over ideological differences. In the 1960s, Washington began adjusting its strategy toward Beijing to counter the Soviet Union. When the Cold War ended, the US once again intensified ideological confrontations with China. That's when former US president Bill Clinton tried to link so-called human rights affairs with China's most-favored-nation-treatment.

US politicians have never stopped their ideological hostility toward China, and continue to attempt to reshape China. Imposing more pressure on China has become a consensus among Washington strategists, who viewed engagement policy a failure. 

Since President Donald Trump took office, the US began a much fiercer competition with China, which has increasingly become more ideological. Trump has repeatedly used "Chinese virus" to define the novel coronavirus, and the US Congress attempted to interfere in China's domestic affairs. These moves and others reflect an ideological competition that is becoming increasingly vehement and can no longer be overlooked. It needs to be properly dealt with, otherwise it could strike US-China ties hard. 

Strategic competition between the US and China has, to some extent, fanned the flames of these ideological frictions. But the critical reason lies in the divergence and contradictions in the two countries' media outlets and drivers of public opinion.

Previously, Beijing tried to deal with ideological battering from the US in a low-profile manner that was designed to avoid ideological competition from escalating. In recent years, Washington has become more aggressive, and China decided its sometimes less defensive approach led the US to regard China as weak and allowed Washington to become more arrogant. This is a lesson China has learned from the US-launched trade war - Beijing responded to Washington's unrelenting demands in a strong manner. 

Even a rabbit will bite when it's irritated, and China is no rabbit. It has become impossible for China not to respond to the US' constant enmity toward China's system and chosen ideology. 

As the Chinese people suffer through the novel coronavirus pandemic, they mostly feel disgust when US politicians make groundless accusation against China. China's countermeasures against US news outlets are just and restrained. They are not aimed at escalating tensions and its hoped the US will realize China's reasonable concerns and deal with China-US ideological divergences rationally to ensure their peaceful coexistence. 

However, with the ongoing US presidential election campaign, the bruised economy and the pandemic, it's hard to see the struggle between Beijing and Washington easing. Even more worrisome are negative interactions that could create a more pessimistic mood that could harm ties well into the future. Both China and the US should be aware of this. Otherwise, the risk of a new cold war will increase sharply. 

The author is secretary-general of the International Security Study Center at China Foreign Affairs University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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