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China Daily Global / 2020-02 / 14 / Page012

China-US relations during coronavirus outbreak

By Pan Yixuan | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-02-14 00:00

Editor's Note: The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has prompted some to claim that it will accelerate the "decoupling" of China and the United States. Two experts shared their views on the epidemic's impact on bilateral ties with China Daily's Pan Yixuan. Excerpts follow:

China and the US not able to decouple

The novel coronavirus outbreak has restricted the movement of people and created a temporary shortage of production capacity that may lead to the outflow of manufacturing chains from China.

But with tens of billions of yuan spent on medical facilities and supplies, resolute measures such as quarantining cities, nationwide mobilization and international cooperation, China is gradually bringing the epidemic under control, which will promote the resumption of stalled production chains.

The electronic manufacturing giant Foxconn, which is one of Apple's suppliers, has built production lines for protective face masks that China is in short supply of due to the epidemic. If it has adequate production, the company can even supply such masks beyond its own needs.

Worries about the epidemic should not be exaggerated. The foundation of the Sino-US relationship that is based on close economic ties cannot be easily shifted.

China has halved tariffs on $75 billion US products as a reciprocal measure to the cut in US tariffs on Chinese goods scheduled to come into effect on Feb 14.

On Feb 7, the Chinese and US presidents talked over the phone about the implementation of the "phase one" agreement signed on Jan 15, with the US leader expressing his confidence in China's ability to win the battle against the virus.

Instead of decoupling, the series of talks have put Sino-US trade and economic relations back on track.

It is true that there is the potential for technology decoupling, as their competition in 5G and artificial intelligence is heating up, but international cooperation on global health security challenges because of the coronavirus have reinforced their common interests in the application and development of technology.

There is no need to exaggerate worries about Sino-US relations during the epidemic.

Just a short-term 'decoupling'

Due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the US has introduced entry restrictions on foreigners who have been to China within the past 14 days and quarantined US citizens and permanent residents returning from China.

Such restrictions constitute a kind of quarantining of China that could result in a short-term decoupling of China-US relations.

During the period of economic stagnation in China brought about by the epidemic, companies will seek replaceable market and manufacturing places outside China.

But leaving China's huge market and trained labor force will cost a lot and may be a bad idea if the epidemic ends in a few months. Meanwhile, for similar reasons, there might not be an acceleration in the return of jobs to the US during the outbreak as US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross claimed that there would be.

As long as the epidemic can be controlled, the US will gradually ease the limits. The US has made entry limits so strict that China-US and the world's trade and economic ties will suffer uncalled-for restrictions. It's not important to debate whether Washington has overreacted to the epidemic and acted beyond the suggestions of the World Health Organization. It's more essential that Beijing and Washington should negotiate to reach a reasonable agreement and strengthen cooperation to fight the epidemic.

Although the "China threat" theory remains in the US given the recent remarks by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the epidemic should not be an excuse to justify the "permanent decoupling" of China and the US.

The duration of the coronavirus epidemic plays an important role in the newly signed Phase-one Sino-US trade deal. The longer the epidemic lasts, the more the implementation be impacted and so delay its realization.

Luckily the recent talks between Chinese and US presidents showed confidence in the further development of bilateral relations.

The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

Li Zheng, an assistant research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

Chen Qi, professor of international studies at Tsinghua University

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