OPINIONS US talk of taking advantage of misfortune unpalatable


US talk of taking advantage of misfortune unpalatable


20:19, January 31, 2020

(Photo: Sipa)

Yes, China and the United States will need further, tougher negotiations to end the Washington-initiated trade war, despite the partial agreement signed two weeks ago.

And yes, the protracted trade spat has dealt a heavy blow to mutual good feelings.

Yet that did not prevent many Chinese from being touched by the video clip shared on Chinese social media showing United States Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross proposing a moment of silence in sympathy for Chinese victims of the novel coronavirus the other day at the White House Lunar New Year celebration.

That, along with the news of the US government repeatedly offering to send epidemic control experts and equipment to help, was a heart-warming reason for optimism for some who have harbored misgivings about the countries' difficult and convoluted relations.

It also prompted some to question the conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus, which have retained a resilient existence among some Chinese.

Yet, having contributed a precious sense of goodwill to the less-than friendly atmosphere for bilateral ties, Secretary Ross then undid his good work with remarks that appear mean at best.

He didn't "want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease", but the epidemic that had spread from Wuhan to the rest of China and was now spreading around the world, came as a boost to the US economy in his eyes, because "it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America".

His department even went one step farther, advising companies against doing business with China.

As a result of the temporary restrictions local governments have put in place to curtail transmission of the contagious virus in China, many foreign businesses operating in China have had to adjust their production plans. From Apple to Starbucks to McDonald's, many US companies have felt the impacts.

But everybody knows this is only a temporary state of affairs. With the government and people of China making all-out efforts to fight the virus, very likely the battle will not take long.

And only very near-sighted companies will leave China or not do business with it because of the outbreak. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Jan 24, there had been an estimated 140,000 hospitalizations and 8,200 deaths in the US from influenza during this flu season. And 54 children have died. Yet that has not sparked an exodus of companies looking to set up elsewhere, or prompted companies to sever their business ties with the US.

In Chinese culture, taking advantage of another's misfortune is the last thing a gentleman is expected to do, which is why Ross' remarks have sounded so heartless and irritating to Chinese ears.

Such remarks do nothing except erase the bonhomie generated by the recent deal. They show that the two countries still have some work to do to manage their competition.

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