On Dec. 30, 2019, the world first learned that a dangerous new coronavirus had emerged weeks before in China’s Wuhan province. Three months, nearly 740,000 infections and 34,000 deaths later, as of this writing, it’s well past time for the United Nations Security Council to declare COVID-19 a threat to international security. Such a designation would carry immediate symbolic and practical weight, signaling to anxious populations around the world that U.N. member states are united in confronting this plague and determined to deploy their entire multilateral arsenal against it. It would also carry the binding force of international law, as the U.N. Charter obliges all states “to accept and carry out” decisions by the Security Council.
Given these potential benefits, it is beyond maddening that infighting between China and the United States is blocking any forceful action. China, which has held the rotating presidency of the Security Council since March 1, has been dragging its feet on a resolution or even a joint declaration of concern. Zhang Jun, China’s U.N. envoy, explained earlier this month that this “public health” matter did not fall within the Security Council’s “geopolitical” ambit. Washington has reinforced Beijing’s obduracy, demanding that any resolution specify the Chinese origins of the coronavirus, as well as of the 2003 SARS epidemic. The Chinese blasted the United States for “politicizing the outbreak and blaming China” in an email to U.N. missions, declaring: “The groundless accusations and malicious fabrication from the U.S. aim at shirking its own responsibilities, which severely poisoned the atmosphere of global cooperation in containing the outbreak.”
The Trump administration is understandably annoyed that Chinese Communist Party propagandists are depicting Beijing as a heroic leader in the global struggle against the pandemic, while whitewashing its culpability in first concealing and then failing to arrest the outbreak, as well encouraging a conspiracy theory blaming the virus on the U.S. Army. But the monomaniacal U.S. attempt to counter China’s self-serving narrative is a colossal waste of effort, distracting the world from the immediate task of slowing the pandemic and coping with its political and economic fallout.