China is kicking ass on the global power stage — thanks to Donald Trump

Trump and Xi Jinping face to face

Screenshot / Yahoo

While China gains global power, the role of the US as a world leader has taken a nosedive. Power, China had not yet achieved through its decades-long push for dominance, was handed over on a silver platter by Trump’s coronavirus response. Or, rather, lack thereof.

Many Americans have been — understandably — focused on the nation’s nonexistent federal response to the pandemic. Meanwhile, China has been filling leadership roles that once belonged to the US and expanding on advantages that were already tipping in their favor.

China virus recovery

A photograph of Xi Jinping speaking at an event


China is almost back to a pre-COVID rate of economic growth. “Many of the world’s major economies have climbed quickly out of the depths of a contraction last spring,” reports the New York Times. Now China is the first nation to surpass its economic position of a year ago.

To control the spread of coronavirus, China tracks its citizens’ by their cell phones, locks down neighborhoods where COVID-19 appears, and institutes mass testing protocols in response to every outbreak, no matter how small. For months, China focused on infrastructure to bolster its economy. Now businesses are returning to normal, and consumer spending is on the rise. Popular restaurants have lines even in Wuhan, ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic.

And while China’s imports have increased slightly, their role in the export market has grown voraciously. This is true particularly of medical supplies like ventilators, N95 masks, and medication supplies. For instance, the US imports 95% of the ingredients used in antibiotics from China, most of which can not be made in the US.

An increase in export with slower growth in imports means China’s economic power grows, while that of many other global powers is held in place. China’s current economic resurgence occurred in the vacuum created by Trump’s foreign policy decisions, and his subsequent epic failure to mount any coronavirus response.

It’s not just the money

A photo of the city of Beijing


Global power is not just a wealth contest; it is also based on which nations can lead a worldwide response. And the cache built over the last 70 years of US leadership has all but evaporated. As early as March, Foreign Affairs reported that the obvious lack of preparation and response both within the US and as a global power allowed China to step into the breach.  “As Washington falters, Beijing is moving quickly and adeptly to take advantage of the opening created by US mistakes, filling the vacuum to position itself as the global leader in pandemic response.”

China went into the coronavirus pandemic on the defensive, having controlled and manipulated the data out of Wuhan, and limited access by the World Health Organization (WHO). But with extreme measures, they were able first to control their pandemic, and then to show their success to the world.

Chinese leaders have taken point among global powers by coordinating the pandemic response with leaders in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Information and experience are shared by video conference. China then promotes this leadership to the world. “Virtually every story on the front page of its foreign-facing propaganda organs advertises China’s efforts to help different countries with goods and information while underscoring the superiority of Beijing’s approach.”

But the United States had nothing to show

A photograph of Jared Kushner at an event

Flickr / Gage Skidmore

“China’s chief asset in its pursuit of global leadership — in the face of the coronavirus and more broadly — is the perceived inadequacy and inward focus of U.S. policy.”

By the time the novel coronavirus arrived in the US, Trump had already gotten rid of the pandemic response team, slashed funding to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and depleted the Strategic National Stockpile of disaster supplies held for major public health emergencies. And while Trump advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner was blowing smoke about the Strategic National Stockpile not actually being for Americans, China was working overtime.

Trump may have invoked the Defense Production Act, but it was China that produced action

Trump's coronavirus task force at a press briefing

Flickr / White House

China may have needed medical supplies in the early spread of COVID-19, but they quickly became the nation that could supply them for others. When Italy pleaded for ventilators, testing supplies, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it was China who answered the call. No European nation could supply Italy, and the US was AWOL.

China already manufactured the majority of surgical masks; since February they have ramped up production tenfold. China now produces enough masks for the entire planet. They produce half of the world’s N95 ventilators, partly by forcing foreign factories in China to make them. And they are willing to share these supplies with the world.

China sent medical professionals and supplies to Iran and Serbia, prompting Serbia’s president to turn away from the notion of “European solidarity” and say “the only country that can help us is China.” Chinese business magnate Jack Ma sent masks to all 54 African nations plus countries in Europe, Asia, and North and South America, including the US.

How does the US regain its place as a global power?

Rick Bright testifies before Congress

Screenshot / C-SPAN

The US is still in no position to help its own citizens, let alone stride onto the world stage. Even if the US is able to manage its own spread of COVID, it may be too late to get a ticket to the global pandemic response party. Already far behind China in the production of supplies and offers of assistance, the development of the first successful vaccine is the last thing the US might be able to offer.

With near-daily prognostications about the imminence of a vaccine, Trump has clearly placed all the American eggs in the vaccine basket. Beyond the obvious need of a country suffering an immense wave of outbreaks, it may also be the only way the US can re-emerge from this pandemic as a global power.

But even if US pharmaceutical companies can pull that rabbit out of their hat, there’s more to it than yelling, “Eureka!” in a lab coat and heading out to a rave. Dr. Rick Bright warned a House of Representatives subcommittee in May that it can take as much as two years to manufacture the millions of vials and syringes it will take to deliver a vaccine. And like the rest of US response, this preparation has yet to get off of the ground.

Whenever a vaccine becomes available, there is no one company that can produce enough for our country or for the world. We’ll have limited supplies. We need to have a strategy and plan in place now to make sure we cannot only fill that vaccine, make it, distribute it, but administer it in a fair and equitable plan. We don’t have that yet and it’s a significant concern. — Dr. Rick Bright


A group of world leaders standing in rows


If the US does develop the first stable vaccine, it will require supplies from China for domestic production, and cooperation with other global powers for world distribution.

No matter what area of leadership, if the US wants to regain its footing as a global power, it will require cooperation with China. Trump supporters may crow when the current administration plays the blame game. But the world needed leadership eight months ago, and China stepped up. Finger-pointing didn’t get ventilators to Italy. Finger-pointing didn’t get masks to Africa. Finger-pointing didn’t get PPE to US citizens.

China did.

And the world was watching.

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