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Trump, Xi and the Cold War in the Year of the ‘Plague’

Nationalism is the trump card they are both willing to play amid shrill jingoistic language as the US-China standoff continues

US President Donald Trump blamed the “China plague.” His Chinese nemesis Xi Jinping warned of “external risks.”

The scene is now set as the odd couple bicker and snarl their way through the rest of a year from hell.

For Trump, it is all about November’s Presidential Election. For Xi, it is the looming impact of a New Cold War between China and the United States.

Nationalism, it appears, is the trump card they are both willing to play amid shrill jingoistic language.

Bluster? In part, but the rivalry, between the world’s two great economic powers, runs deep.

“By the way, without the plague from China, this thing [the election] was over. We were sailing. But that came in, and then you have to prove yourself again.  So now I have to prove myself again,” Trump said in a speech on the opening day of the Republican Party Convention after mentioning “China” nine times. 

Spin the truth

Behind in the polls, he will happily spin the truth into a parallel universe if it helps him beat Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, later this year.

Facts merge with fiction, especially when it comes to the chaotic way in which his administration handled the coronavirus outbreak that has so far infected nearly six million people and killed more than 181,000 in the US.

Still, that did not stop his pitch for a second term. Xi, of course, does not have to worry about the people’s vote as the ruling Communist Party in China has never had to answer to them at the ballot box.

He just has to contain the various factions of the CCP, keep the economy ticking over and curb the threat of a resurgence of Covid-19. 

In the coming period, we will face more and more headwinds in the external environment, and we must be prepared to deal with a series of new risks and challenges,” he told a seminar earlier this week.

Xinhua New Agency

Remember, it first surfaced officially in the Chinese city of Wuhan back in December before rapidly spreading into a global pandemic.

Yet that is just the tip of the iceberg in Xi’s anno horribilis, which included international condemnation for the Party’s security crackdown in Hong Kong and the militarization of the South China Sea.

Human rights violations against the Muslim Uyghur population in Xinjiang and the persistent bullying of democratic Taiwan have been followed by a new brand of Wolf Warrior diplomacy as the Sino-American high-tech row engulfs Huawei and TikTok.

Slowing economy

But the rhetoric has failed to paper over the cracks of a slowing economy, widespread flooding across the country and global dismay over China’s hardline policy in the Asia region. Suppression of freedom of speech at home, blocked by the Great Firewall, remains a perennial sensitive topic.

“In the coming period, we will face more and more headwinds in the external environment, and we must be prepared to deal with a series of new risks and challenges,” he told a seminar earlier this week as reported by Xinhua, the official state news agency.

It might be more subtle than Trump’s scattergun approach but the meaning was crystal clear, there is turbulence ahead.

At least there are signs that the phase one trade deal is still alive if barely kicking. 

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held a brief chat on Monday with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He amid acrimony over the coronavirus crisis. 

“Both sides see progress and are committed to taking the steps necessary to ensure the success of the agreement,” the US Trade Representative’s office repeated in a briefing after a “scheduled call.”

But how long that statement of intent will last is anyone’s guess in the Year of the “Plague.”

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