A rhetorical climb-down from the U.S. and China

After the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., Cuī Tiānkǎi 崔天凯, downplayed conspiracy theories about the origin of COVID-19 that his colleague Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚 had promoted, we asked, “Is the Chinese Foreign Ministry distancing itself from coronavirus conspiracies?

The answer appears to be yes, at least judging from Zhao’s Twitter feed today, where his activity was limited to putting into tweet form the defensive — but not conspiratorial — answer of another Foreign Ministry spokesperson to a question about the phrase “Chinese Virus.”

Trump also appears to be backtracking on his use of the phrase “Chinese Virus,” in a pair of tweets that emphasized the importance to “totally protect our Asian American community,” and specified that “the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form.” The SCMP also has quotes from Trump at a press briefing that “suggest he has moved away from blaming China for the pandemic.”

The change in tack might help U.S.-China relations, but Asian-American commentators like Frank Shyong of the LA Times wrote that “the harm to Asian Americans is already done.” NPR correspondent Elise Hu also pointed out that Trump failed to deliver a unifying message even in his clarifying tweets, as his grammar implied that the “Asian American community” is “some subgroup ‘working with us.’”

Other news in U.S.-China relations:

The publishers of the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal have co-signed an “open letter to the Chinese government.” Noting that COVID-19 is “a global challenge unlike any other in our lifetimes,” the three authors say that China’s expulsion of American journalists working for their newspapers is “uniquely damaging and reckless as the world continues the struggle to control this disease, a struggle that will require the free flow of reliable news and information.”

Our news organizations are rivals. We compete with each other on the biggest stories, including this one. But on this matter, we speak with a single voice. Both countries — and the rest of the world — benefit from having talented journalists, many of them fluent in Chinese and versed in Chinese culture, cover the world’s second largest economy, the center of global manufacturing, and, unfortunately, a population hard hit by one of the worst pandemics of modern times. Even when this crisis passes we believe both countries will continue to benefit from freer access to news and information about the other.

“The Trump administration signaled a willingness to remove tariffs on medical supplies from China,” Bloomberg reports, as the U.S. Trade Representative called for public comment on medical tariffs through June 25, and separately, together with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “listed a number of steps taken that should help boost U.S. exports of beef, poultry and other farm products to China” as part of the phase one trade deal, per Reuters.

—Lucas Niewenhuis