WASHINGTON – After Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concluded a “virtual” summit on Wednesday with top diplomats from six other countries, striking a note of solidarity with US allies as the world faces a common enemy: the coronavirus pandemic.
“I made it clear to our G7 partners – especially to our friends in Italy and the rest of Europe – that the United States is still determined to help them in every way possible,” Pompeo told reporters at the Department of Foreign Affairs after his private video conference with foreign ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.
But the Trump administration has not advocated an international response to the global disease threat – nor have other world leaders, experts say.
“It’s been very chaotic,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and head of global health science at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations.
After the G7 meeting actually a The German news outlet reported that the seven foreign ministers could not agree on a joint statement because Pompeo insisted on using the “Wuhan virus” to describe the pandemic, a move that was said to be deliberately provocative against China. Pompeo essentially confirmed the report Thursday.
“Different countries take different approaches,” Pompeo told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt Thursday when asked about the report. “My theory is that we should always be correct about how we identify something. This virus began in Wuhan; I have referred to it as the Wuhan virus.”
During other international crises – such as the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and the global economic meltdown in 2008 – world leaders joined forces to meet the threat of disease and economic collapse. But the response to COVID-19 has been very “state-centric,” Huang said, with most affected countries facing inward.
All over the world, individual governments are competing to secure scarce medical supplies from a strained global supply chain, closing borders with little or no notice to their neighbors and lobbing verbal breadth that threatens to deepen disagreement.
“The world today affected by this is terribly fractured, terribly fragmented,” said Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Affairs, a think tank in Washington. “We do not see much in the horizon when it comes to promising diplomatic initiatives to bring the great powers and others to address both the pandemic virus crisis, as well as the economic moves it has made.”
One reason: The corona virus is unique in the power and speed that it has spread from one country to another. First reported by Chinese officials in late December, it has now infected at least 415,000 people in more than 150 countries, according to a tracker from Johns Hopkins University.
“Usually at the international level, the World Health Organization goes full throttle,” in response to outbreaks, as does the UN, the rep says. Michael McCaul, the best Republican in the Foreign Affairs Committee.
But the world was “trapped outside” by the coronavirus, he said. “And when it started to hit the United States, it’s been a bit of a catch.”
Morrison and others say that the virus also hit at a particularly problematic time, as international institutions have weakened and a nationalist delight has swept many governments.
In the countries best positioned to gather an international response, several leaders greeted the outbreak “with a certain level of skepticism” and “were somewhat dismissive of the idea that a high-level concerted action was needed,” Morrison said. “Certainly it was true in Washington, in London, in Rome and elsewhere.”
In Washington, for example, the Trump administration has closed travel from Europe without consultation, burned Iran for its handling of the epidemic, tried to buy scarce medical equipment from US allies who themselves are beset with cases of coronavirus and accused China of a virus quake.
“China was very secretive, okay?” President Donald Trump said during a briefing on March 21 about the US coronavirus response. “Very, very secretive. And that’s unfortunate.”
There were also reports that the Trump administration offered a large sum of money to a German company working to develop a coronavirus vaccine, which aroused fears that the United States was trying to gain exclusive rights to inoculate Americans first. Both the German company and the White House denied the report, but it highlighted the feeling that this was a struggle for everyone — for themselves and showed that traditional allies were looking at each other with new suspicions.
Heather Conley, head of the CSIS Europe program, said that it is not only the United States that has responded to the pandemic with a one-sided bent.
“There is just an absolute lack of coordination and cooperation in Europe,” she said.
“This will be a self-seeking moment for the EU,” as it creates the potential for solidarity, coordination and cooperation across the EU, Conley said. Instead, “what we have seen is that this pandemic has completely revealed that … these institutions will not be used for this great challenge.”
Pompeo has reiterated Trump when he criticizes China. At Wednesday’s news conference, the Secretary of State swerved to appoint the US’s global generosity to attack China for what he has termed a “cover-up” of the first outbreak.
“The Chinese Communist Party poses a significant threat to our health and lifestyle, as the Wuhan outbreaks have clearly shown,” Pompeo said, refusing to use the official medical name – COVID-19 – despite objections from Chinese officials and public health experts saying that it can lead to stigmatization and attacks on Asians.
Pompeo noted that China was the first to resist international aid. Officials suppressed reports of the outbreak and tried to punish doctors who raised alarms. Xi Jinping’s government refused to allow US medical experts to go to Wuhan, the first episode, and abolished the Trump administration’s offer of financial aid.
“We tried … from the opening days to get our scientists, our experts on the ground there so that we could start helping in the global response to what started there in China, but we couldn’t do it,” Pompeo said Wednesday.
Chinese officials have since been more open, sharing the virus’s genome sequence and other important data. And some experts fear it is counterproductive to choose a fight with China, especially as the country dominates the global supply chain for sought-after medical products.
“We should partner with China. This is not a good time for us or for China to say ‘Let’s have a mock match,'” said Gayle Smith, who served in the National Security Council and other top positions in the Obama administration. we are interconnected and dependent, it is not a political position. It is a statement of fact. ”
Smith worked in the White House when President Barack Obama fought the outbreak of the Ebola, and she said he asked other world leaders to campaign for the disease.
“He called pretty much every leader on the planet to say ‘Here’s what we do. We have so many doctors, so much money, “Smith recalled. Then he said,” “What are you going to do? How much money can you put in? How many healthcare professionals? He really pushed everyone.”
As the corona virus continues its steady march, Smith noted, scientists, epidemiologists and other experts share their research and other information about the virus across borders.
But, she added, “at the level of global political leadership, there is a really big absence of the kind of international cooperation needed.”
Although the researchers continue to cooperate as they compete to develop a vaccine, Huang said he does not foresee it happening on the political front.
He fears if and when a vaccine becomes available, those countries that have the capacity to manufacture it will “first meet the needs of their people and those countries that do not have the capacity will have to wait. This will probably cause more death and more suffering. “