Beijing’s leadership has been reticent in its response to Trump’s infection. State-run news agency Xinhua published two lines Saturday saying China’s leader, Xi Jinping, wished the U.S. president and first lady a speedy recovery — a day behind many other heads of state including North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen.
Foreign relations experts say China and other U.S. rivals are likely weighing their options for geopolitical action while Washington is preoccupied by the West Wing outbreak.
Many in Taiwan were nervous Saturday that they could become a target. But spontaneous policy action is out of character for Xi, and scholars say he would be loathe to provoke Washington into an even harsher confrontation.
“Maybe this is an opportunistic moment and just because Trump is at Walter Reed they are going to bust a move,” said Shelley Rigger, an East Asia politics expert at Davidson College, speaking about Beijing. “But they also may be thinking this is a really dangerous and sensitive time.
“My expectation is they will look at the situation with a very cold calculus, and not get all excited that Donald Trump has covid,” Rigger added.
Within China, state social media-minders allowed an outpouring of mockery of Trump’s diagnosis — a rare level of vitriol against a world leader for Chinese authorities to condone. China’s censors are usually wary of the domestic parallels of allowing its nationals to publicly wish for a world leader’s downfall, even if on the surface it’s a leader of a hostile nation.
But many of the old rules no longer apply. Trump has launched an unprecedented multi-front attack on China since taking office in 2017. He’s repeatedly called covid-19 the “China plague” and “kung flu,” terms seen by many Americans and others to carry racist undertones.