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Collaboration in Times of Crisis

Stephen A. Orlins, president of the National Committee on US-China Relations, on how the US and China should cooperate in the world's fight against Covid-19

By Xie Yi Updated Mar.25

[Covid-19] has a major effect on our work,” said Stephen A. Orlins, president of the National Committee on US-China Relations, in an online interview with NewsChina. “Unless it’s urgent, we don’t go to the office.” Orlins works over the internet, which he expects to continue for the next four to six weeks.  

As of March 23, 2020, according to statistics website Worldmeters, 33,346 people in every state of the US, Washington DC and three US territories, have tested positive for Covid-19. A total of 414 people have died.  

“I wish our federal government had done a better job learning from China and being able to work with the Chinese,” Orlins said. At this stage, cooperation between the US and China in combating the pandemic is insufficient. “It is sad.”  

“Cooperation between the US and China should start from the top, President Trump and President Xi.” Orlins said, while emphasizing the importance of the countries to work together to curb rumormongering and conspiracy theories, such as Covid-19 was unleashed as a biological weapon. 

“The US government should not refer to Covid-19 as the Chinese virus,” he added. Orlins suggested that both countries must openly share information. “China should allow more US experts to come to China.” Meanwhile, the US “should welcome Chinese scientists to come to the US and work with the CDC on the speedy development of vaccine and viral therapies.”  

"There are four issues that over the years have brought together the peoples of the US and China and forced the two governments to work together," Orlins said, listing them as climate change, terrorism, the 2008 financial crisis and pandemics such as Ebola and SARS. Covid-19 is another issue that could bring about such cooperation, Orlins said.  

“What is uplifting is the people-to-people response," Orlins said. When Covid-19 first hit China, people and business communities in the US came together to donate masks and other medical equipment. “That shows how deep the friendship is between American and Chinese people and their business communities,” he said.   

“It’s a crisis that doesn’t have borders. It’s important for the two governments to cooperate.”  

For Orlins, not only should the US and China work together to tackle the health crisis, but the world’s two largest economies should collaborate to underpin the global economy during this difficult time.  

The spreading virus is straining the global economy, weakening supply chains and economic demand. Since March 9, the plunging US stock markets triggered 'circuit breaker’ halts four times in only 10 days. “I have never seen the US stock market act like that in my entire life,” Orlins said, “and I am old.”  

To mitigate the economic shock created by the pandemic, “what each country should do now is to break out of the trade war,” Orlins said. “[China and the US] should get the economy going,” because “their economies account for half of the global GDP.”  

“I always loved the Chinese word for crisis, weiji, because ji means opportunity,” he continued. It is important to “use this crisis as an opportunity to do very positive things,” such as strengthening the World Trade Organization, increasing global trade, and making the World Health Organization more effective.  

When asked what would happen if the US and China fail to cooperate during the Covid-19 outbreak, Orlins said: “It would be damaging to the world and more people will get sick and die.”  

“I believe this type of crisis will bring the US and China closer together, not push us apart.”