France says virus exacerbating global diplomatic rift

PARIS (AFP) – The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating diplomatic “fractures”, heightening United States (US)-China rivalry and weakening multilateralism, France’s Foreign Minister said in an interview published yesterday.

“It seems to me that we are witnessing an amplification of the fractures that have been undermining the international order for years. The pandemic is the continuation, by different means, of the struggle between powers,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told Le Monde newspaper.

“My fear is that the world after (the outbreak) will strongly resemble the world before, but worse.”

Led by the US, criticism has been mounting in the West over China’s management of the outbreak which has killed more than 164,000 people worldwide and hammered the global economy.

The US is now the country hardest hit by the epidemic, which broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019 before spreading worldwide.

China has denied concealing any outbreak information or lying about its death toll, and has suggested in turn that the US military may have started the pandemic.

Last week, US President Donald Trump announced a halt in World Health Organization (WHO) funding partly because of what he said was the United Nations (UN) body’s kowtowing to Beijing.

The President’s move, said Le Drian, was “yet another challenge to multilateralism”.

The US under Trump has already withdrawn from multiple international bodies and agreements.

“This struggle (between world powers) is an entrenchment of the balance of power that we saw emerging even before (the epidemic), with the exacerbation of Chinese-American rivalry,” he added.

Le Drian said the US “retreat” from a global leadership role was hindering collective action on a variety of major questions and emboldening China to claim the role for itself.

In the middle of this tug of war, it was essential for Europe to find its own “leadership destiny,” he said, while insisting China must “respect” the European Union (EU), “which is not always the case.”

“Sometimes, Beijing plays on divisions within the EU.”

Le Drian also lashed out at Beijing for “maligning” personnel in French care homes, having falsely claimed on its French embassy website they had abandoned their posts overnight, leaving old people to die of hunger and illness.

The Chinese ambassador had been summoned to explain the claims.

“We expect to be respected, just like China wishes to be respected,” Le Drian said.