In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. China’s president visited the center of the global virus outbreak Tuesday as Italy began a sweeping nationwide travel ban and people worldwide braced for the possibility of recession. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP)
In a Thursday night telephone call, Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Trump that relations between the U.S. and China had reached an “important juncture.”
According to Xinhua News Agency, a state-run media outlet, Xi said, “Both sides will benefit if we cooperate, both will lose if we fight each other. Cooperation is the only correct choice. I hope the U.S. side could take real actions. The two sides should work together to enhance cooperation fighting the virus and develop non-confrontational relations.”
He also told President Trump, “I am very worried about the outbreak in the U.S., and I’ve noticed the series of measures being taken by the U.S. president. Chinese people sincerely hope the outbreak can be contained very soon.”
Xi said “he hoped the US would take “effective measures” to safeguard the lives of Chinese citizens in the US” and described the Coronavirus as the “common enemy of mankind.”
Following the call, President Trump tweeted, “Just finished a very good conversation with President Xi of China. Discussed in great detail the CoronaVirus that is ravaging large parts of our Planet. China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!
It’s notable that the President referred to the virus as the “CoronaVirus” instead of the “Chinese virus.”
Just finished a very good conversation with President Xi of China. Discussed in great detail the CoronaVirus that is ravaging large parts of our Planet. China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2020
A Wall Street Journal story about the call said that Xi “has been on a telephone spree this month, dialing the leaders of coronavirus-battered France, Italy, Spain and Germany with offers of support, including masks and other medical equipment. One phone number he hasn’t tried is Donald Trump’s.” Xinhua’s report indicated that President Trump had initiated the call.
Relations have been especially strained over the last couple of months. The Chinese have been offended by Trump’s insistence upon calling it the “Chinese virus.” One senior Chinese official recently asked, “How do you cooperate when you hear the president of the United States referring to the epidemic as the ‘Chinese virus’ all day long?”
For obvious reasons, Americans have been angry over China’s disinformation campaign which blames U.S. soldiers for bringing the virus to their country in October. A senior U.S. administration official said those allegations are “dangerous, counterproductive to relief efforts and something we’re watching closely.”
Prior to Thursday night’s call, Xi and Trump had not spoken since February 7.
The Guardian reports that China will “temporarily bar the entry of almost all foreigners and drastically reduce flights to the country.” This ban is scheduled to begin today. Although we have no way of confirming any of the information the country reports, on Thursday, Chinese media announced: “the first locally infected coronavirus infection in three days and reported 54 imported cases.”
According to The Guardian:
China’s Civil Aviation Administration said late on Thursday that 90% of international flights would be suspended. The number of incoming passengers would be cut to 5,000 a day, from 25,000. China has also ordered local airlines to maintain only one route per country, once a week, as of 29 March.
In Beijing, all overseas arrivals must undergo quarantine at government-designated centres. Shanghai and other cities and provinces have implemented similarly strict rules.
Chinese officials were highly critical when other countries enacted similar bans. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) “advised countries not to shut their borders to Chinese travelers.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is the current director-general of the WHO. Tedros’ cozy relationship with China has come under scrutiny in the past couple of weeks. But that’s fodder for another post.