It is just possible to forget amid the threats and counter-threats – and the intention is certainly that we should forget – that the world is failing to contain a pandemic that has killed half a million people
The new Cold War launched by the West against China and Russia is escalating by the day. In a single week, the Kremlin has been unmasked trying to discover the secrets of Britain’s pursuit of a vaccine against coronavirus and revelations are promised about covert Russian interference in British politics. Boris Johnson made a U-turn on Huawei, announcing that it is to be kicked out of participation in the 5G network because it poses a threat to British security, though a curiously slow-burning one since they will only be evicted over seven years.
The US may put the widely used Chinese video app TikTok on a blacklist that would prevent Americans from using it. The administration is considering using the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act in order to penalise TikTok as “an unusual and extraordinary threat” to US security. President Trump says he is considering banning the app in response to the way China handled the coronavirus epidemic.
This is a clue to the prime motive for Trump to ramp up the Cold War against China, which is his determination to win a second term in the White House by diverting voters’ attention from his catastrophic handling of the pandemic. “Don’t defend Trump – attack China,” is the advice of a leaked 57-page memo circulated among Republican Senatorial candidates in April. It suggested that Republican politicians should blame China for starting the epidemic by allowing the virus to escape from a laboratory in Wuhan, lying about it and hoarding medical equipment needed to treat the sick.
A striking feature of the US and British diplomatic offensive against China is how little criticism or even discussion it has provoked in any quarter in the US and Britain, even from those whose normal knee-jerk reaction is to denounce anything said or done by Trump or Johnson. This may be because these critics are genuinely horrified by undoubted Chinese oppression of the Uighurs, proposed imposition of dictatorial rule in Hong Kong, and assertions of military power in the South China Sea and on the Chinese-Indian frontier.