Will America’s Coronavirus Response Inspire Countries to Follow China’s Model?

World opinion could swiftly shift if the United States appears incompetent, and President Donald Trump’s response to COVID-19 continues to fail to inspire confidence in American leadership.

By Mark Hannah, Senior Fellow

This article appeared in The National Interest on March 24, 2020.

America is woefully unprepared. As the coronavirus begins to spread across the nation, test kits are scarce and their haphazard and inadequate use is giving the virus a running start. A Norwegian university urged its overseas students to return home—especially those in “a country with poorly developed health services and infrastructure . . . for example the U.S.A.” As America struggles to respond to the pandemic, China’s richest man showily donates a million masks and half a million test kits. America’s allies—from Japan and South Korea to Italy and Spain—also turn to China for help. Serbia’s president declared “the only country that can help us is China.”

How could this be when the Chinese government badly bungled the initial reaction to COVID-19? Contrary to rosy portrayals in its propaganda, officials covered up the outbreak in Wuhan for weeks. But after instituting draconian lockdowns and intensifying already-intrusive surveillance measures, China appears to have mostly contained the virus. It reported no new local infections on Thursday for the first time since the outbreak began.

China now looks to capitalize on its position to challenge America’s status as the default leader on issues of international concern. Its diplomats have been coordinating the fight against the virus through regional organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the “17 + 1” group of central and eastern European countries.

An annual survey by my organization, the Eurasia Group Foundation (EGF), fielded in the weeks leading up to the pandemic, found broad support for America’s continued global leadership. Nearly 80 percent of respondents across nine diverse countries believed that, compared with China, having the United States “as the world’s leading power” would be better for their country.

Read more of Mark’s article in The National Interest.

Written by Mark Hannah

Mark is a senior fellow at the Eurasia Group Foundation’s Independent America project and host of the podcast, None Of The Above.

Read more from Mark

This post is part of Independent America, a research project led out by EGF senior fellow Mark Hannah, which seeks to explore how U.S. foreign policy could better be tailored to new global realities and to the preferences of American voters.