I’m More Worried About the Fraying US-China Relationship than Corona Virus

I’m just an educator who likes the puzzle of how to teach better.

I became interested in Chinese schools in 2018, invited to see a few schools there. Of course I was aware of diplomatic tensions between the USA and China. Harvard’s grand scholar of international relations, Graham Allison, had published his book just a year prior, the Thucydides Trap:

Today, an irresistible rising China is on course to collide with an immovable America.

The likely result of this competition was identified by the great historian Thucydides, who wrote: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

But the point of Destined for War is not to predict the future but to prevent it. Escaping Thucydides’s Trap is not just a theoretical possibility. In four of the 16 cases, including three from the 20th century, imaginative statecraft averted war.

Can Washington and Beijing steer their ships of state through today’s treacherous shoals? Only if they learn and apply the lessons of history.

So mostly I’ve proceeded on the assumption that cultural exchange — of teachers and K-12 ideas — would help reduce the risks of escalation. Good for both countries.

So yes, then there was a trade war, and Huawei, and visa issues, etc. But my hope was that things would get better.

Things are getting worse.

One of the highest regarded writers on the China-USA relationship is Bill Bishop. Today he writes:

Over the last 24 hours we have gotten even closer to the precipice. I can not think of a more dangerous time in the US-China relationship in the last 40 years, and the carnage from the coronavirus has barely begun in the US.

The CCP is stirring anger against America inside China while embarking on a global campaign to sow disinformation about the origin of the virus and the CCP’s initial mishandling of the outbreak as part of the “we did everything we could, we tried to save the world, we bought you time” propaganda push, while now also offering help to fight the epidemics in other countries.

As things get worse here, and no doubt in other countries as well, I am very afraid that the anger towards China and people of Chinese descent will only increase, and possibly explode. Perhaps the CCP will cynically see that as a benefit, if it drives more of the diaspora to want to return to the Motherland?

Sudden economic downturns, mass illness and death, nationalist citizenry and political leaders under tremendous pressure who find political benefit in deflecting blame onto an external enemy have led to how many disasters throughout history? How do we realistically arrest this?

What caused Bill’s alarm bell?

Yesterday’s call between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Director of the Office of Foreign Affairs of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi clearly went even worse than thought.

Since the conversation President Trump has twice tweeted about the “Chinese virus”, in what looks to be a direct response to the orchestrated disinformation campaign, led by wolf-warrior diplomat Zhao Lijian, about the origin of the virus:

….How much have people on both sides, and the financial markets, thought through what lies over the edge of the fast approaching precipice of the US-China relationship?

Whatever temporary floor may have been put in place with the phase one trade deal in January has collapsed, and if the COVID-19 epidemic leads to mass casualties and sustained economic damage in the US then prepare for things to get really ugly.

I may well be wrong about each, but:

I’m confident in our ability to overcome the virus.

But this other thing seems scary.