Interview with Ambassador Freeman on COVID-19

Amid the outbreak of Convid-19, the US-China Perception Monitor has conducted a series of interviews on this topic. We will discuss with experts on China’s handling on this crisis, the implications to the US-China relations and its global strategy. The following interview is with Ambassador Chas Freeman, a distinguished China expert and former career diplomat.

Ambassador Chas Freeman (Chinese: 傅立民) is a life-long career American diplomat, author, and writer. Ambassador Freeman worked as the main interpreter for President Nixon during his 1972 China visit and served as the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992, where he dealt with the Persian Gulf War. In this interview, Ambassador Freeman talked about the ongoing coronavirus and its impact on China’s international strategy and US-China relations.

China’s president Xi visited Wuhan, the city in the center of coronavirus epidemic. It is a possible sign that Beijing considers the worst of the outbreak to be over. How do you comment on China’s handling on this crisis from the beginning to this date?

Freeman: The initial response of Wuhan officials to the discovery of the virus was irresponsible.  This got China off to a slow start in dealing with the epidemic but it has more than made up for that with the intensity of its subsequent actions.  Xi Jinping’s visit to Wuhan marks a welcome milestone in China’s efforts to control the transmission of the virus and to gain time to produce an effective treatment for it. 

How will coronavirus affect China’s global strategy?

Freeman: The novel coronavirus should be taken by both China and the United States as well as other countries as proof of the necessity of greater international cooperation on issues affecting all of humankind.   The role of the World Health Organization underscores the importance of multilateral organizations in dealing with such challenges.  These are lessons that the world should take to heart as it faces the perils inherent in human-induced climate change, nuclear proliferation, and other menaces.

Some officials in the Trump administration like Peter Navarro see coronavirus as an opportunity to further their decoupling mission and move supply chains out of China. But there are also experts calling for more broad international cooperation in light of fighting a disease like coronavirus. What is your view on this?

Freeman: The severance of cooperation between the United States and China is a tragedy for both societies.  It will depress economic growth and retard technological advance in both countries.  Mr. Navarro has an alarming record of being wrong about many things.   In my view, his approach to the management of U.S. relations with China is entirely counterproductive.  What will he say if, as may well be the case, a company in China is the first to develop a vaccine for the new virus and exploits its intellectual property rights to maximize profits by charging what the international market will bear?   The Sino-American trade war Mr. Navarro played such a role in launching has indeed disrupted supply chains to the disadvantage of economies everywhere.  Its legacy will be the diversification of such supply chains to multiple points, adding complexity, introducing inefficiency, and raising costs for both producers and consumers worldwide.

Interview By Juan Zhang