From 'Wuhan virus' to thank you, US virus situation forces change in tone with China: experts

By Xie Wenting and Zhanghui Source:Global Times Published: 2020/4/4 1:02:35

The street and sidewalk of Times Square are seen mostly empty in New York, the United States, March 26, 2020. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua)

The US Embassy in China on Friday posted an article on Weibo which surprisingly expressed its ambassador's appreciation for Chinese efforts to assist the US government in the fight against the coronavirus, marking a sharp change in tone as less than a week ago, the embassy roiled Chinese netizens by using "Wuhan virus" to refer to COVID-19.

The article, penned by US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad titled "Moving Forward Together," said, "I underscored that now is the time to look forward, and relayed my appreciation for Chinese efforts to assist our government in the export of needed medical supplies to the United States."  

US Embassy in China's change of tone came after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump administration's most vocal China hawk, adopted a more restrained tone and dropped his use of "Wuhan virus," according to the New York Times. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: AFP

Pompeo, however, did not immediately stop stigmatizing China even after Trump dropped the term "Chinese virus," which made the Chinese people suspect that the US is playing tricks. This seriously interfered with China-US cooperation to fight the disease, analysts said. 

Pompeo was derided by the Washington Post as the most ineffectual secretary of state since 1898.

This time, the embassy is following Pompeo's lead, but does not mean Pompeo has changed anything. His assessment as the worst diplomat will not change and Chinese people will continue to watch his actions, analysts noted.

Li Haidong, professor at the Institute of International Relations of China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Friday that the shift shows that the US has finally realized that only through joint cooperation with China can it defeat the COVID-19 epidemic.

As the US' confirmed cases, which were more than 241,000 as of late Thursday, are almost a quarter of the total cases in the world, the US is in grave need of medical supplies and it knows that the biggest outside help must come from China, Li said. 

If the US maintains the mentality of geopolitical competition with China instead of seeking help from China, the Americans would suffer ultimately and Trump's reelection would be seriously affected, Li said.  

Diao Daming, a US studies expert at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times on Friday that the change of tone in the US Embassy's social media account showed that the relevant parties from both countries are strengthening cooperation in the pandemic prevention and control work and are moving to the right direction after leaders of two countries spoke on the phone. 

"Given the deteriorating situation in the US, it's practical for the US to actively cooperate with other countries including China," Diao said.

Branstad noted in the article that the US embassy has already been hard at work bringing US and Chinese companies together to meet the growing needs for critical personal protective equipment in the US and they are also working clo sely with Chinese government officials to facilitate the shipment of those supplies out of China.  

"No one country can fight this battle alone, and I am confident that our two countries will continue to find ways to jointly cooperate to combat this common enemy that threatens the lives of all of us," he said. 

Even if Pompeo restrained his tone, the Chinese people would not buy it. But we will continue to support and provide assistance to the US, Chinese analysts said, urging the "one of the worst Secretaries of State" could be more sober-minded and that the US embassy in Beijing could better perform its role as a bridge to China-US relations. 

The US embassy in Beijing cannot just fawn on Pompeo. it should take its responsibility at this critical moment.

Diao said that the statement which was released under the name of the ambassador shows his intention, which is to facilitate cooperation between China and the US. 

If the ambassador's attitude can fully represent the transformation of the US State Department and those politicians who kept stigmatizing China and politicizing the coronavirus, it will surely be a "very good thing" that China and the international community will welcome.

However, befriending China on the COVID-19 issue does not mean that the US will start cooperating with China on other issues, such as the South China Sea, Taiwan or trade disputes, Li warned. 

"The US' hard-line approach toward China and its containment policy on China is nearly impossible to change over a short time, so don't even think that China-US relations will improve after this," Li said.

Global Times noticed that the comments area under this embassy post in Weibo was closed. 

Last week, the US embassy referred to COVID-19 as the "Wuhan virus" in several of its Weibo posts which outraged many Chinese who called such posts racist provocation and stigma. 

However, the US embassy in Beijing did not respond directly to the questions raised by the Global Times on such posts and wide criticism from the Chinese public. It only said in the reply that diversity and equality are core values that drive American society, the constitution and legal system, and respect for diversity and equality is a choice Americans make every day in order to strengthen their society.

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