Playing the “yellow peril” card in virus debate

520Views 8Comments Posted 19/05/2020


By Jonathan Power

The world is supposed to be pulling together to defeat the Coronavirus and to some extent it is. Earlier on Russia sent special equipment to the US and recently the US has sent some to Russia. China has aided Italy and Africa with doctors and equipment.

Tiny Cuba, with its deep pool of doctors, has also helped Africa. Around the world there is a sense of “we are all in this together” and that this is a bigger problem than the ones the world has faced since World War II. The last two days the World Health Organization has brought all the world’s countries together to discuss how to go forward.

Both the US and China, to a degree, have messed things up. President Donald Trump has been vicious in his attacks, suggesting Chinese culpability for spreading the virus. (He’s forgotten how the US incubated AIDS, an even greater killer. But China never blamed the US.) He started the provoking and needling weeks ago, calling the virus “a Chinese virus”. Then when some Chinese senior officials (but not the leadership) publically shouted back Trump hit back, ever harder. It wasn’t Trump versus President Xi Jinping. It was Trump versus much lower down officials and some of the Chinese media. So what good did that unnecessary spat do?

What Trump’s representatives needed to say at the World Health Organisation’s special two day assembly that began on Monday was, “Let’s sit down and with our best scientists discuss not who is to blame but how such diseases can be forestalled”.  That is likely to bring a better result.

China has now said, changing its previous position, that after the disease is overcome it will be cooperating with an international inspection carried out by the WHO to ascertain how and why what went wrong. In fact it needs to be encouraged to open up to WHO’s experts long before that.

National boasts
Meanwhile, China has been boasting about the speed at which its lockdown worked. The South Koreans are boasting how with fast-moving testing, tracing and social distancing they defeated the virus without a lockdown and Sweden is speaking of how the relaxed alternative to lockdown which it is practicing works over the long-run. Hopefully, some cross-fertilization of the best ideas and practices will come out of this conference.

Trump’s antagonism towards China existed before the time of Corona. Despite his bonhomie with Xi whenever he meets him, he has gone all out with his trade war. He refuses to negotiate an extension of the nuclear weapons reduction agreement with Russia unless China (a relatively small nuclear power) is brought into the deal, which Russia interprets understandably as a go-slow tactic.

Trump plays into a very old-time visceral fear of the “yellow peril” which not so long ago was a minority feeling in America. But he has managed to whip up a broad swathe of public opinion to be anti-China.

The Democrats (and much of the media) have followed him. Not just Joe Biden, the Democrats’ presidential candidate, but also Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, even though their attacks are less pointed.

This goes nowhere. What’s the point of it?  In the end the US will lose. China has a population 4 times as much. Before that long it will begin to match the US’s income per head, at least in its eastern more developed and more populated parts. Its high technology is already ahead of the West’s in many areas. Its military budget is increasing (but not by much).

The clash
Where does this hostility come from? The late Harvard professor, Samuel Huntington, famous for his book, “The Clash of Civilizations” in which he predicted war between the Islamic world and the West wrote as well about the gulf between the US-led West and Chinese civilization, which he also believed was set for a head-on violent collision.




“Americans see government as a necessary evil”, writes Graham Allison, another Harvard professor, “and believe that the state’s tendency toward tyranny and abuse of power must be feared and constrained. For the Chinese the government is a necessary good, the fundamental pillar ensuring order and preventing chaos….. China’s equivalent of ‘give me liberty or give me death’ would be ‘give me a harmonious community or give me death.’”

Both countries believe they are number one in the world. Both have an extreme superiority complex. Both think they are exceptional. But, unlike China, the US has sought to prevent the emergence of a “peer competitor” that could challenge its own military dominance. (This is aimed against Western Europe and Russia as well as China.)

America wants to export its concepts of democracy and human rights. China, as Henry Kissinger noted, does “not export its ideas but let others come to seek them”. China thinks that the US pushes for these virtues as a tactic to undermine its form of government. (Interestingly, there are human rights courses at some Chinese universities that are independent in content.)

Then there is a profound cultural difference. Americans tend to focus on the present and too easy forget the lessons of the past- as with the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Iraqi wars. The novelist Gore Vidal has noted his country should be called “The United States of Amnesia”. The Chinese are more historically minded and often think in terms of decades or generations.

China has not gone to war since 1979. For its part the US has attempted regime change around the world 72 times. Nor has China funded or supported proxies or armed insurgents since the early 1980s.

According to Fareed Zakaria, “ That record of nonintervention is unique among the world’s great powers. Beijing is now the second largest funder of the United Nations and its peacekeeping work. It has deployed 2,500 peacekeepers, more than all the other permanent members of the Security Council combined. This highlights the remarkable shift from a radical agenda of spreading revolution to a conservative concern for stability. It has become a guardian of the international status quo. Had someone predicted this in 1972 few would have believed it possible”. China has come a long way since the aggressive days of Mao Zedong, whereas the US appears in some ways to have gone backwards.

As for trade, the international bank, Credit Suisse, said in a 2015 that a tally of 450 non-tariff barriers against foreign goods put in place by major countries showed that the US is a league of its own as number one. China is fifth in the list. In a recent survey of US companies, conducted by the US-China Business Council, intellectual property protection ranked sixth on a list of pressing concerns, down from number two in 2014. That year China created its first specialized courts to handle intellectual property cases. In 2015 foreign plaintiffs brought 63 cases to the court. The court ruled for the foreign firms in all cases.

Trump’s case against China on the Coronavirus, on military posture and on trade is wildly exaggerated. It needs to stop being made. The US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has said the West must keep China in “its proper place”. This gets us exactly nowhere.

The Coronavirus and the debate over who is right and who is wrong could become a watershed moment in the relationship between the US and China. Nothing could be more counterproductive. Nothing could be more damaging to the peace of the world.

Comments 8


I also have a mental image of cisero3 and banjaxed mothers dropping them off at school and getting a ticket for littering. I imagine two troglodites swinging from trees and eating bananas. I imagine their faces look like they caught on fire and was put out with chains.

5 days ago

isn't imagination a wonderful thing. I have a mental image of most of the commentators here leaning over their keyboards, typing their invective comments, wearing their MAGA hats and having a little bit of spittle drooling from the corner of their mouths. I'm probably wrong but I choose to believe it. Why let the truth get in the way of my mental images.

2 weeks ago

Two commenters are bashing Panama, instead of addressing the article.

2 weeks ago

Powers is just a boring leftist and consistently predictable. Ditch him. Run articles about Panama...there is an idea.

2 weeks ago

Ahhh... Jonathan Powers is such a dependable leftist. If DJT says it, it must be a lie. If DJT proposes it, it must be bad. Those are his consistent, go-to positions. And of course Newsroom Panama fauns at the feet of Powers. The title of the article, of course, suggests racism by referencing the Yellow Peril. However, president Trump has never suggested a hint of racism only that this is where the disease started and where it was bungled so badly that the rest of the world has had to suffer. The facts are that the WHIO is in the pocket of People's Republic of China. Its head oversaw several disease outbreaks with disastrous results in his home country of Ethiopia. The fact is that the C-19 outbreak was initially ignored by the PRC, then the doctors and journalists who tried to sound the alarm were silenced (a few haven't been seen in months). Then travel from Wuhan to the rest of the PRC was cut off while they were allowed to travel across the globe. All the while the PRC denied human-to-human transmission and at the same time cornered the market in PPE and medical supplies. Yeah, Jonathan, nothing to see here. Our benevolent Chicom friends just want what's best for the world.

2 weeks ago

trump recognized it for what it was early and was called a racist for blocking flights , no matter what he does for us the idiots in charge of the demo party will wail and gnash their teeth because they see their power slipping away THANK GOD

2 weeks ago

i am burried in two properties in panama .. willing to take near a 50 % loss to move them both paid for. my house on the hill in cerro cama was home for 7 yeras ,, the happiest i have ever been in my life .. the move to the city then chorrerra supporting those other peoperties has cost me my savings . panama which was a retirement haven 18 yeras ago has truned on us in every way and instead of welcoming us to invest has tried in every way to screw us out of all we own ..

2 weeks ago

President Trump is calling out China and the WHO for their role in spreading the virus! American taxpayers are always watching the money pulled from their checks being used to fund bureaucracies with their own globalist agendas. Trump said he was elected by Americans to look out for Americans and that's what he has been doing! In his second term Trump will pull countless companies out of China and bring those jobs back to the USA as well as other countries. While countries like Panama destroy their economies with draconian lockdowns and will be hat in hand begging for an international bailouts , The USA under Trump will flourish. Expect China to be marginalized and their rise to super power status slowed dramatically. The question remains where do you want to be? Stay in Panama with surging high crime, unemployment and a police force accustomed to abusing it's citizens, or in a Country where you can actually get ahead during the next 10 years of global economic depression? For many who are in their 70's and purchased in Panama it makes no sense to stay, your time is short anyways. For those who bought Right Of Possession (ROP) here you also are stuck. For younger people who can sell and maybe take a loss but use that money to get out and start over in a place like the USA that would be the smart move! money invested in Panama is now "dead money" if you can find a bigger fool even at a modest loss take it, because soon there will be no buyers at all! It's just not the people here in the cities who have taken a bath on their bad condo investments the interior of the country is way under water also. Places like Coronado, Boquete, Pedasi, Santa Catalina, Cambutal, and Playa Blanca are overbuilt, poorly built, overpriced, and under water! Everyday at work I talk with the locals and they all say the same thing that taxes are going up to pay for this economic crisis, especially property taxes in gringo infested areas! Those who can make it back to Trump's America should go!

15 days ago
The comments are the responsibility of each author who freely expresses his opinion and not that of Newsroom Panama.
Please enter a valid email.
Please enter username.
Please, enter a valid message.
Please validate that it is not a robot.
Free Daily Email
Register here for free daily headlines