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Why Trump and Xi might both lose the corona wars

Niall Ferguson
 

By Niall Ferguson (original source The Spectator)

“The Covid-19 pandemic came along just as Cold War II was getting under way between the United States and the People’s Republic of China — the superpowers of our time — with the European Union and a good many other US allies quietly hoping to be non-aligned. Far from propelling Beijing and Washington towards détente in the face of a common enemy, the new plague has only intensified the Cold War. For the first time, China’s campaign of disinformation has been on a Russian level, with wild anti-American conspiracy theories being disseminated by senior Foreign Ministry officials. As is well known, President Donald Trump retaliated by calling Sars-CoV-2 (the pathogen that causes the disease Covid-19) the ‘Chinese virus’ until persuaded to desist by his son-in-law Jared Kushner and the Chinese ambassador to Washington.

To some naive observers, China is going to win the corona wars. Yes, the virus may have originated in Wuhan, perhaps in one of the local ‘wet markets’ where live wild animals are sold for their meat or in one of two biological research laboratories located in the city. Finally, after an initially disastrous Chernobyl-like sequence of events, the Chinese government has been able to get the contagion under control with remarkable speed — and now seeks to bend the online narrative in its favour, recasting itself as the saviour rather than scourge of mankind.

I am not convinced. True, this may not be Xi Jinping’s Chernobyl. Unlike its Soviet counterpart in 1986, the Chinese Communist party has the ability to weather the storm and to restart the industrial core of its economy. Yet there is no plausible way that Xi can now meet his cherished goal of seeing China’s economy this year become twice the size it was in 2010. That would need growth of at least 5 per cent and Covid-19 has blown a hole in that target. Nor is Xi politically unassailable.”

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