CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, China, China trade deal, China virus, coronavirus, Im-Politic, National Institutes of Health, pandemics, pharmaceuticals, Phase One, Trump, Wuhan, Wuhan virus, Xi JInPing
As tragic as the coronavirus has been for victims in China and elsewhere and their loved ones, both the humanitarian and the Machiavellian in me can’t help but think that President Trump is squandering some great and closely related opportunities being created by the outbreak.
To be sure, the President hasn’t completely ignored the disease. He tweeted yesterday that “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!.”
He stated at a January 22 press conference at the big global economy conference in Davos, Switzerland that the U.S. government has a plan to contain the virus in the United States. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health say they’re working on a cure – in tandem with the U.S. pharmaceutical industry.
But given that the United States is the world leader in medical research, and given that the President has just (justifiably) eaten China’s lunch with the new Phase One trade deal, it seems like much more could and should be done, and in a much higher profile way.
For example, the President, who isn’t shy about broadcasting his achievements and intentions, should announce that’s he’s directing federal research agencies to treat the coronavirus threat as a top priority, as well as seek a similar commitment from U.S. medical schools and drug companies. And how about a summit of American medical research leaders from the public and private sectors to brainstorm both on addressing the present danger and the overall growing threat of pandemics resulting from the ever smaller world being created every day by increasing worldwide commerce and travel?
In fact, why even restrict this meeting to American participants? The President should think about either inviting their foreign counterparts to the session as well, or to a follow-up meeting.
That’s what my humanitarian instincts tell me.
And my more political self? It would advise the President explicitly and publicly to offer his buddy, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whatever assistance the Chinese need. For good measure, he should propose sending a team of American scientists and public health experts from the government and private sector to China to assess the situation first-hand (including the status of the disease and China’s progress in combating it) and develop recommendations to improve the Chinese response.
Clearly, these actions would serve humanitarian ends. But they would also put Beijing’s dictators in quite the pickle. Right after having their clocks cleaned in the trade negotiations, they’d be put in a position of accepting American help (which would involve a huge loss of the face so critical in Chinese culture), or declining assistance (which can only further anger a Chinese public that’s already not thrilled with the crisis management skills of either the central government or local officials). In other words, either way, the United States scores political points with public opinion both worldwide and in China in particular.
Meanwhile, no one could legitimately criticize Mr. Trump for declaring that all agriculture imports from China are being banned, since the CDC admits that, although it lacks “any evidence to suggest that animals or animal products imported from China pose a risk for spreading 2019-nCoV [the technical name for the virus in question] in the United States,” that “This is a rapidly evolving situation.”
It’s become a well-worn cliché that the Chinese word for “crisis” combines the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” But even though this specific claim seems questionable at best, the underlying idea and logic are compelling, and need to be applied to U.S. coronavirus policy liji (Chinese for “immediately”). There’s no excuse, to quote former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for letting the opportunity go to waste.