Diplomatic Expansion between China and the United States – in Light of the Corona Crisis

by Dr Wesam Almahallawi

China has not left a single opportunity when it comes to competing with the United States of America, perhaps suggesting that the actual battle between the two countries is about economic dominance over world markets and China’s attempt to expand at the expense of the United States and other countries. In truth, this matter is present and apparent, however, it has gone beyond the economic aspect and onto many others. Some advances include China’s attempt to increase its military strength to the extent that it can protect its economic interests. China has also been conducting excessive diplomatic mobility to ensure its smooth expansion within numerous countries by providing economic projects and various aid packages to these countries, especially the poor ones. However, the matter which causes reflection revolves around the major turning point in the history of China’s foreign relations. China attempted to make the most of the current Corona crisis at the diplomatic level, while great countries such as the United States of America withdrew to their own self-interests, demonstrating clear political selfishness when dealing with allies and friends. China has shown great commitment and responsibility in this regard and has begun cultivating relationships with several Western countries by becoming, for the most part, the only country that stood by them in this crisis which ravaged the world and showed the vulnerability and fragility of many countries classified as first world countries.

China began its move to help different countries early on by providing unconditional medical assistance. China not only sent medical supplies but also showed a special type of commitment to help others by transporting medical teams to the countries most affected by the pandemic, notably Italy. Aid and experts were sent in successive batches to help face the crisis resulting from the pandemic outbreak, prompting the Italian Prime Minister to launch the phrase “this is called solidarity” after he thanked China for extending their support while making a clear reference to the limited interaction of the European Union in the face of the crisis. From Italy to Serbia, the National Assembly building in Belgrade and the Sava River Bridge was lit with the colours of the Chinese flag for two consecutive nights to express their deep gratitude to China which, on the 21st of March, had sent a specialized medical team in addition to medical assistance. What is remarkable here is that the Serbian President himself arrived to receive the delegation at Belgrade airport. He said in a speech that the Chinese showed his country the true meaning of friendship and love, representing actual solidarity in times of crisis which his country will never forget. In contrast, the President of Serbia also expressed his criticism of the European Union, which had withdrawn itself during this crisis. In fact, the matter went beyond that where each country had retreated to its own struggles.

China did not stop there but continued its policy of building bridges of trust and showing solidarity with countries excessively hit by the pandemic such as Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America; registering a strong presence in this regard. This adds to the credit of China’s diplomacy, which is quietly expanding in the available and neglected voids left by the United States and its allies. This behaviour has boosted the Chinese presence in many regions, allowing it to gain new allies that would not have otherwise joined China’s drive had it not been for the pandemic. China may be the biggest winner of the current global crisis caused by the Coronavirus.

In contrast, if we look at the conduct of the United States during this crisis, we will notice a high degree of outward confusion and uncertainty. The matter sometimes escalates to selfishness, as represented by several direct behaviours; most notably, the confiscation of a shipment of face masks which were bound for Germany but taken for personal gain. This action, a move described as piracy, presents an important aspect in the eroded reputation of the United States which clearly, will not stop there. This matter is not just limited to Germany. Many European leaders have clearly pointed out similar problems related to U.S. conduct in purchasing and intercepting medical supplies. The former President Donald Trump later announced a 30-day travel ban from Europe to the United States, excluding the United Kingdom from the decision. The European Union had warned of the negative consequences that this measure could have on the economy, clearly showing their dissatisfaction of such actions. Subsequently, Europe followed the example of the United States and announced a 30-day ban on the entry of travellers outside the EU to reduce the spread of the corona pandemic.

Public criticism of U.S. policies during this crisis has been clearly made before by some allies regarding Trump’s emphasized “America First” statement. The Former German President Gerhard Schröder stated that such policies are not right for the United States to adopt in these circumstances and that under Trump, he has no hope that the U.S. will change its policies. The United States has not stopped its practices which shows allies, before enemies, the amount of care taken for securing self-interests when working with others from the perspective of sharing and integrating. Trump tried to lure the German company Cure Vac with money to come to the United States in an attempt to monopolize a drug that the company is working on, a matter which angered the German Economic Minister. He responded that “Germany is not for sale”. The German Foreign Minister also stated that no one can exclusively obtain research results from a German company, further adding that the only way we can overcome this pandemic is by working together, not against each other. The current behaviour of the U.S. administration in the face of this pandemic that threatens humanity has raised a wave of questions about the extent to which the United States can be trusted as a reliable leader in leading the world to face current and future crises and challenges. The newly elected president Joe Biden faces challenging tasks ahead in inheriting a hostile global landscape facing the US and at the same time grappling with a deadly pandemic.

This question opens a wide door for China’s efforts to achieve the expansion required to ensure its commercial interests and political aspirations, so will the scene end here? Absolutely not. The United States still has a strong presence at all levels and its ties with Europe still exists, while the Europeans remain very afraid of rising Chinese influences. Therefore, this battle will not be easy or quick, in fact, it will take the time required to determine the eventual winner and loser.


Dr Wesam Almahallawi is a senior lecturer at the Communication Programme, Faculty of Leadership and Management, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia