US President Donald Trump’s coronavirus infection adds greater uncertainty to the presidential election and is likely to push him to take an even tougher line on China, mainland Chinese observers said.
The assessment came after Trump announced early on Friday that he and his wife tested positive for the pathogen, an extraordinary development that followed a positive test result for Hope Hicks, a close aide who travelled with the couple.
The diagnoses also come more than six months into a global pandemic and in the final stretch of a US presidential election race in which Trump has been accused of flouting expert advice on preventing the disease’s spread.
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The coronavirus has already killed more than 200,000 Americans and more than 1 million people worldwide.
Liu Weidong, a US affairs specialist from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the diagnosis could be both good and bad news for Trump.
“But either way, the infection will give Trump justification to begin harsh China-bashing tactics,” Liu said.
“The ‘good’ part is he can use this as a proof to show he was working so hard to serve the country that even he contracted the virus, and voters will support him.
“But the ‘bad’ part is that he cannot appear in person at many campaign events to drum up support.”
Pang Zhongying, a specialist in international relations at Ocean University of China, said Trump’s infection was “an October surprise”, a news event that could influence the outcome of the election.
“It remains unclear how his contraction of Covid-19 will affect the election result or whether it can help revive his imperilled re-election bid. Most polls show Trump lagging behind [Democratic nominee] Joe Biden,” Pang said.
He said it was possible that Trump could attract public sympathy votes but at least one thing was certain.
“It’s definitely bad news for China,” Pang said.
“Trump has made China-bashing a priority for his campaign and repeatedly used the ‘China virus’ to shirk his responsibility over his handling of the still raging pandemic.
“My biggest concern is that Trump is very likely to seize the opportunity to redouble his attacks against China, and as a result to ramp up pressure on China.”
Liang Yunxiang, an international relations professor from Peking University in Beijing, agreed.
“If he’s really infected and in critical condition, it will definitely affect Trump’s presidential campaign; but if he’s largely healthy, he’s expected to criticise China even more,” Liang said.
But Shen Yi, associate professor of international relations at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the infection would have a limited impact on the US presidential election because most voters would have already made up their mind.
News of the Trumps’ positive test results became a top search term on Chinese social media along with keywords such as “Biden” and “US stocks”.
The news attracted more than 1 billion views on microblogging site Weibo in less than four hours after Trump tweeted about his positive result.
Some commenters doubted the infection was real and others said it could be an attempt to attract sympathy.
Others simply mocked the US president.
“If this is real, thank you Trump for the special gift for China’s birthday,” a commenter on Weibo said, referring to China’s National Day on October 1.
A cartoon showing Trump spitting towards Biden during an earlier presidential debate published by the Lincoln Project, a political action committee to prevent Trump’s re-election, was also widely circulated on the Chinese social platform with the hashtag “is Biden panicking?”.
China’s foreign ministry said it was aware of the news and wished the couple a speedy recovery.
Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of nationalistic tabloid Global Times, said in a tweet that Trump and his wife “have paid the price for his gamble to play down” Covid-19.
“The news shows the severity of the US’ pandemic situation. It will have a negative impact on the image of Trump and the US, and may also negatively affect his re-election,” Hu said.
The Trumps are just the latest figures from the White House to contract the virus. In May, two staff members, including a member of the US Navy who serves as one of Trump’s personal valets, tested positive for the virus, and in July a cafeteria employee on the White House grounds tested positive as well.
The vice-president’s press secretary tested positive, as did the president’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien. Trump confirmed a fourth positive case on White House grounds last month.
In Taiwan, the presidential office said it wished the couple a speedy recovery.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Coronavirus: what happens if Trump becomes incapacitated
- ‘Totally under control’: Trump and coronavirus, in his own words
- How world leaders reacted to Trump testing positive for coronavirus
- Trump’s positive Covid-19 result sparks questions over November 3 election, fall in global stocks
This article Trump coronavirus diagnosis means tougher US line on China, analysts say first appeared on South China Morning Post