China and the US have played the blame game over the Covid-19 pandemic. Illustration: Asia Times

Blaming China for the novel coronavirus that led to the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on the global economy has proved untenable and backfired miserably on the West because it was not only unfair but the charges were exaggerated or even untrue. While the first case of the virus’ outbreak was found in that country near the end of last year, China did not intentionally unleash this disease on the world, nor has any scientific analysis definitively concluded that Covid-19 originated in China.

Rather than admit that it might be Western complacency, unpreparedness and policy failures that caused the unnecessary high numbers of people infected by and dying from Covid-19, governments in the West, particularly in the US and UK, blamed China. When the coronavirus broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Western leaders initially thought it was an “Asian virus” that would not affect the West. Besides, compared with the huge numbers of people infected with the flu, sometimes fatally, every year, Covid-19 seemed “tame.”

As it turned out, however, after years of underfunding and neglect, few if any Western governments had the resources to stop the virus’ rapid spread. And China’s “draconian” measures of locking down the epicenter and its surrounding regions were criticized by Western media and political establishments as “illiberal,” an abuse of human rights and economically costly. The impact of this blame game on people’s lives and the economy needs no explanation.

Recent information released by the US government showed that the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC), Dr Gao Fu, phoned his US counterpart, Dr Robert Redfield, to notify hime of the dangers of the virus on January 3, shortly after the first case of Covid-19 emerged in Wuhan at the end of December.

What’s more, US officials knew very early on or at least suspected that Covid-19 would spread rapidly if not curbed quickly and effectively, as attested by US President Donald Trump’s decisions to evacuate Americans out Wuhan and bar people from from entering the US around mid-January. Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade czar and chief China hawk, was reported to have circulated a memo pointing out that Covid-19 could infect and kill many Americans and wreak horrific damages to the US economy if not dealt with quickly.

Not only did Trump not take proactive measures to curb the coronavirus’ spread, he also made further cuts to the already inadequate health-care system, reducing the number of people in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), thus preventing the agency’s ability to facilitate adequate testing.

Furthermore, a recent study conducted by British and German scientists found the virus has three variants, A, B and C, of which A was the root of the outbreak. The authors discovered that variant A was found in Americans who had lived in Wuhan, as well as other American and Australian patients. Only variant B was found in Wuhan. Variant C was common in Europe but not found in China.

The British-German study was more in line with the January Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences one that found the coronavirus has five strains – A, B, C, D and E. In the earlier study, only C was found in Wuhan but all five existed in the US. Both the British/German and Chinese analyses agreed that A was the root of the outbreak.

Other studies found that the number of strains of Covid-19 varied from two to nine. One can decide which study to believe, but none was able to identify the source of the outbreak definitively.

Whether China deliberately misinformed the world of the dangers of Covid-19 and lied about the numbers of being infected and killed by the virus depends on one’s perspective. However, other than the US, few if any nations questioned China’s numbers. For example, Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu said there was no evidence to suggest China fudged the numbers of infected and deaths.

Besides, using the US anti-China crowd’s logic, one can easily question America’s numbers. The official numbers released are largely “guesstimates” based on the assumptions and information incorporated into the mathematical models.

It is true that the US (and other Western countries) were not responsible for Covid-19, but they did squander the opportunity that China gave them. As indicated earlier, the West knew full well that the virus would spread quickly and become more deadly. Indeed, Dr Anthony Fauci, the top scientist on Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, recently commented on CNN that had the US imposed quarantine measures earlier, the numbers of people infected and killed by Covid-19 could have been smaller.

Moreover, the US and other Western countries clearly showed that they lacked the political will and resources, thus were unprepared to curb the spread of Covid-19. There were (and still are) huge shortages of medical supplies and equipment such as face masks and ventilators. In the US, getting a test for Covid-19 costs $1,300, a difficult if not impossible pursuit considering that almost half of the population do not have $500 in the bank.

The West has failed to climb out of the economic hole that the 2008-09 financial crisis dug. The first social and perhaps most costly program to cut was health care, explaining why the epicenter of the coronavirus shifted from China to the West. Europe and the US simply did not have the resources to prevent the virus’ spread.

Furthermore, the US was more focused and therefore allocated disproportional resources to contain China’s “rise,” which it claimed to be the “biggest threat.” Ratcheting up the defense budget fight the “Chinese threat” took away much-needed funds and resources for US economic growth and undermined the health and quality of America’s labor force.

To make matters worse, Trump initiated a trade war against China, imposing heavy tariffs on “Chinese imports” that in reality were goods produced by US companies in China. This amounted to a tax on US goods eventually paid by American businesses and consumers, respectively reducing their competitiveness and consumption power.

Too, Chinese tit-for-tat tariffs bankrupted or inflicted huge financial stresses on American farmers. According to the US Federal Reserve, Trump’s war cost the US economy at least over $45 billion without getting anything to show for it. His trade war in fact further decimated manufacturing activities, according to the Fed.

Ironically, too, China’s “draconian” lockdown was emulated in the West. What’s more, the US media showed their true colors, criticizing China but praising Italy for doing the same thing.

After years of proliferation of the “yellow peril” rhetoric by some US politicians, media and pundits, most Americans believe China is the bad guy, stealing American jobs and out to topple US supremacy. So blaming China is not only an easy way to divert attention from politicians’ flawed policies, but it is also politically rewarding. Being tough on China generates votes; just ask Donald Trump and his political soulmates.

The irony is that blaming China and other countries in the past revealed America’s (and other Western countries’) weakness and flawed ideology, but made China stronger and respected by the rest of the world. China’s virus containment measures were not only praised by the World Health Organization and increasing numbers of countries, but also admired by many in the West.

The US (and UK) would do well to listen to former British prime minister Gordon Brown and US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad of cooperating with China (and the international community) to stop Covid-19. Continuing to blame China would only worsen their health and economic woes.

Ken Moak taught economic theory, public policy and globalization at university level for 33 years. He co-authored a book titled China’s Economic Rise and Its Global Impact in 2015. His second book, Developed Nations and the Economic Impact of Globalization, was published by Palgrave McMillan Springer.