U.S.-Chinese Distrust Is Inviting Dangerous Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories and Undermining Efforts to Contain the Epidemic

by Jemal Muhamed


Author: Yanzhong Huang

Affiliation:  Council on Foreign Relations

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: March-April, 2020/USA

Type of Literature: Analysis 

Word Count: 2800 

Link: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-03-05/us-chinese-distrust-inviting-dangerous-coronavirus-conspiracy

Keywords: Noble Coronavirus, US-Chain relations, Mutual suspicion.



The outbreak and spread of novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has resulted in hundreds of thousands human infections, tens of thousands deaths, sociopolitical tensions and severe economic activities across the world. Along with the outbreak of the pathogen, rumors and uncertainties have thrived and circulated on social media, mainly dichotomized suggestions that “the virus is a biological weapon—either a Chinese one that had escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan or an American one inflicted on Wuhan.” Although there is no incentive for either the United States or China to develop biological weapons, it is difficult to dispel such rumors given the fact that the military officials of these countries view with suspicion each other’s intentions in building bio-security programs. While distrust and suspicion about biological weapons has been the feature of relations between the two countries since 1945, the suddenness and mystery of the new Coronavirus facilitates speculation that the virus is genetically engineered. Amplified by the deteriorating relations between the US and China, the hostile misperceptions about the origin of COVID-19 have enfeebled global efforts to control the pandemic’s spread and reduce its effects. For example, China ignored offers of medical assistance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for weeks. Assertions that attribute Coronavirus as a biological weapon are scientifically unsupported as scientists from various countries have “overwhelmingly” found that the virus originated in wildlife. However, the claims of conspiracy theorists are harmful and have devastating impacts on the global economy, politics, security, and governance as they spoil the atmosphere for U.S.-Chinese collaboration to tackle the outbreak. The article recommends the two countries to begin dialogue and expand their military-to military exchanges as a way to build mutual trust and minimize the damage to future relations. 


By: Jemal Muhamed, CIGA Research Associate

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