Light still shines for improved China-US ties

May 22, 2020

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When it comes to China’s current relationship with the United States, China expert David Firestein could not help but point out how much it had deteriorated.

“It’s really a tough time right now to talk about any notion of cooperation even though I believe working together on something like COVID-19 is far preferable to going it alone,” said Firestein, president and CEO of the George H.W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations.

He said the very idea that the two countries ought to work together to deal with COVID-19 had become controversial in the US.

“Chinese President Xi Jinping made the point in a recent address to the World Health Assembly that we have a common challenge and we ought to work together on such matters as vaccine development and cushioning the impact of COVID-19 on the developing world, which has yet to bear the pandemic’s full brunt,” he said. “Such proposals used to be viewed as sensible, moderate and pragmatic.”

Firestein said that view is not shared at the federal level and “represents a very sad state of affairs because we miss opportunities to work together, to actually make a positive difference with respect to COVID-19. That’s very shortsighted and very unfortunate.”

Despite the tension and rhetoric at the highest levels of government, Firestein sees positive exchanges continuing to happen at the subnational levels-between states and provinces, between Chinese and US cities, and within the private and nonprofit sectors.

“There are still some spheres of functional and valuable engagement between the two countries,” he said.

When the novel coronavirus broke out in China in January, the foundation quickly formed the US-China Coronavirus Action Network to procure personal protection equipment to help the Chinese people fight the virus.