A masked Donald Trump visits Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Photo: AFP/Alex Edelman

Glee is still widespread on Chinese social media days after Donald Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis as patriotic netizens take to WeChat and Weibo to gloat over what they call the US president’s karma and comeuppance. 

President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan, nonetheless, sent a letter to Trump and Melania on Saturday, expressing their shock and wishing the First Couple a speedy recovery.

It is not known if Xi and Peng’s letter found the Trumps well, since the US leader is yet to thank the Chinese in any reciprocal letter but has instead fed Americans with videos and photos portraying the president’s “steady progress towards recovery.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry also sent, though Beijing’s ambassador in Washington Cui Tiankai, its best wishes to Trump, followed by a sarcasm-laden tweet from the ministry’s spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

She hoped that ordinary Americans in the grip of the novel coronavirus “can also get speedy, the finest medical care just like the First Couple has.” Hua, the face of Beijing’s diplomatic rebukes against the US, initially said she was saddened by the news.  

Still, Xi sending of good wishes to Trump has won plaudits from some observers who say Beijing could well have chosen to stay nonchalant, as the leaders of the world’s two largest economies have barely exchanged pleasantries for a long time.    

But what are ordinary Chinese people and the media making of Trump’s Covid hospitalization?

Patriotic Chinese netizens are having a field day mocking Trump’s misfortune as they vent their grievances against the US brought about by Trump’s bid to hobble China on multiple fronts, ranging from trade to tech. 

Many Chinese, while relishing their eight-day Golden Week holiday from October 1, said the pneumonia spreading into the White House and striking down Trump was “the best National Day gift.”

Others ridiculed that the virus had found its best host and that finally there had been something positive about Trump. Some have even urged Trump to try the quack therapy – injecting bleach – he once suggested.

President Trump drives past supporters outside Walter Reed Medical Center on October 4, 2020. Photo: AFP/Alex Edeleman

The online consensus is that Trump’s dithering, cavalier attitude to the pandemic engulfing the US has come home to roost and that he only has himself to blame. 

A WeChat account believed to have links with top Beijing leadership advisors claimed that Xi and other top leaders would be “happy to adjust strategies” if Trump was incapacitated and had to pull out just a month ahead of the presidential election.  

The nationalistic tabloid Global Times said Beijing should perhaps donate Chinese vaccines to the rest of the Trump team and his  family who must be panicking after the president became prey to the respiratory disease. 

“We are confident that safe and effective Chinese vaccines will hit the market by the year’s end so why don’t we donate some doses to the Trump administration, when senior officials and China-bashers like Mike Pompeo and Trump’s family members like Ivanka and Jared Kushner must have become flustered and may have just woken up to the fact about how dangerous the pathogen can be,” read an op-ed in the Communist Party-run paper. 

Other discussions among ordinary Chinese netizens are fixated on the implications for the November 3 election, the health of Sino-US ties post-vote and whether the next tenant of the White House will continue to pit the US against China.

Debates are raging online about whether the 74-year-old president can beat both Covid-19 and Joe Biden.  

An outspoken Chinese general has openly suggested that Trump’s Covid drama could be a ploy for re-election. 

Retired Lieutenant Wang Hongguang, former chief of the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command, said in a post doing the rounds on WeChat that the whole matter could be a well-thought-out repertoire with “concentrated pathos” to win widespread sympathy from voters.

“Before long Trump will, with ‘an indomitable will’, as his spin doctors will say, fight off the virus and fully recuperate, to give credence to his claim that Covid is far from being deadly but is merely another flu.

“The recovered president will then assure Americans there is nothing to worry about and that he can lead the US to overcome the health and economic crises, just as he personally defeated Covid. Eventually, Trump can steal the presidency from Biden and remain in the White House,” said Wang. 

Trump boards Marine One at the White House on October 2, 2020, before being taken to Walter Reed Military Medical Center. Photo: AFP

Lifeweek magazine, a liberal publication popular among China’s middle class, has sought to make the case for another four years under Trump. 

“It would be naive to assume Covid would forsake Trump’s odds of winning and that the Biden administration would be lenient towards China.” it said.

“Trump has alienated almost all of Washington’s allies but under Biden, the US, Europe and their Asian allies are more likely to close ranks against China. Such a united front would be far worse than having a maverick as the president.

“The US coming down hard on China is the consensus of both Republican and Democratic parties and that should also be the consensus of Chinese policymakers when they lay out countermeasures,” said the magazine. 

Alan Wan, a Beijing Foreign Studies University associate professor of politics, told Asia Times that Beijing was yet able to formulate a consistent Trump tactic and his ailment had added more uncertainties to the presidential race and thus the risks facing Beijing. 

“Don’t be too quick to count Trump out and be careful what you wish for,” said the scholar, who has a doctorate from Yale. 

“Trump’s illness could win much sympathy among voters, entrench his ‘China virus’ narrative, play to his base, arrogate more wrong intentions to Beijing and whip up more hostility and even galvanize more people into voting for Trump.”

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