November 21, 2020

Throughout history, common threats have allowed countries with otherwise tense and even hostile relations to cooperate: think of the United States and the Soviet Union allying against Hitler in the early 1940s; or U.S.-Soviet collaboration to eradicate small pox around the world in the 1960s and 1970s; or the United States and the People’s Republic of China aligning against the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s. The COVID-19 pandemic is a quintessential common threat. But instead of facilitating cooperation between Beijing and Washington, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased hostility through mutual public shaming, petty and largely baseless accusations, and, in the case of the Trump Administration, the President’s adoption of race-baiting labels (e.g. the “China Virus” and “the Kung Flu”). Moreover, the United States has attacked and de-funded the World Health Organization (WHO), the major multilateral organization that could facilitate U.S.- PRC cooperation and maximize the utility of that cooperation around the world. Finally, the United States has allowed revealed reliance on foreign supply, particularly supply from China, of medical Personal Protective Equipment, including surgical masks, to catalyze a destructive pre-existing distrust of international commerce and globalization..

Thomas Christensen | Columbia SIPA