APRIL 16, 2020
Russian President Vladimir Putin defended China’s record on responding to the novel coronavirus outbreak amid U.S. attacks in a phone call with his counterpart in Beijing.
Putin and President Xi Jinping of China held “a thorough exchange of views on the situation around the coronavirus pandemic” in a telephone conversation Thursday, according to a readout shared by the Kremlin. The two men have sought to boost their strategic partnership by working closely together amid the crisis and the pair emphasized efforts to “further strengthen cooperation in this area, including through the exchange of specialists, the supply of medical equipment, medicines and protective equipment.”
But with President Donald Trump and his administration accusing Beijing of mishandling and attempting to cover up the outbreak of the infectious disease first observed late last year in China’s central city of Wuhan, Putin also set out to dismiss Xi’s detractors.
“The Russian side highly appreciated the consistent and effective actions of the Chinese partners, which made it possible to stabilize the epidemiological situation in the country. The counterproductiveness of attempts to accuse China of untimely informing the world community about the emergence of a dangerous infection was emphasized,” the readout said.
“Both leaders expressed confidence that by continuing to work closely with each other, their countries will be able to successfully overcome the challenges associated with the pandemic,” it said.
Beijing first informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of a new coronavirus on New Year’s Eve and officially notified Washington on January 3. Trump initially praised Xi’s response to the pathogen that was initially reported to have a low human-to-human transmission rate, even as the U.S. leader banned travel from China later that same month.
By March, however, the COVID-19 epicenter had migrated West to Europe and the United States. Trump and his officials began to use terms like “Wuhan virus” and “Chinese virus” and Beijing diplomats pushed unfounded theories regarding the disease’s origin as part of what the State Department called a “disinformation” campaign launched by China and Russia.
Both sides backed off but their feud escalated as Trump turned his attack toward the WHO itself, accusing its leadership of being too “China-centric” and halting funding for the United Nations agency assisting the international community combat COVID-19. The move was met with condemnation by diplomats from both Beijing and Moscow.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a press briefing Wednesday that “the U.S. decision can only weaken WHO’s strength, undermine international anti-pandemic cooperation and negatively impact the U.S. and other countries, in particular the vulnerable ones.” Russia’s permanent representative to Geneva-based agencies Gennady Gatilov said it would “do serious harm to the international organization, which has been playing the leading coordinating role in combating the pandemic,” according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.
The European Union, the U.N. and others also spoke out against the move. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed “regret” and said the agency would “is reviewing the impact on our work of any withdrawal of U.S. funding and we will work with partners to fill any gaps and ensure our work continues uninterrupted.”
Washington has sent assistance to dozens of nations, including China, amid the pandemic. With the U.S. being by far the worst-hit country by the new coronavirus on record, however, Beijing and Moscow have also sent support there and have stepped up aid abroad. A day before the U.S. surpassed China in confirmed COVID-19 cases, a CIA report seen by Newsweek considered a potential global shift in power as a result of the virus.
Despite the geopolitical rivalry raging amid the pandemic, the world’s leading powers have found some common ground.
French President Emmanuel Macron called Wednesday for a global truce to focus on fighting the coronavirus, a concept he said already had the backing of Trump, Xi and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson—who recently left the hospital after being treated for COVID-19—in an interview with Radio France Internationale. Macron said he believed Putin would back the idea too.
Putin, for his part, held back-to-back calls with Trump last week in which he discussed bilateral and international efforts to defeat the disease.
The above graphic was provided by Statista.