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China Blew a Chance at Global Leadership Responding to Covid-19

Instead of stepping up, it picked fights with other countries.
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Illustration: Nichole Shinn for Bloomberg Businessweek

In mid-April, China engaged in what appeared to be a particularly pointless fight. With France’s death toll spiking from the novel coronavirus and its economy shuttered, China could well have offered commiserations and support. Instead, it lobbed rhetorical grenades at Paris.

Beijing had taken umbrage at remarks by French officials that it had mishandled the outbreak. China’s embassy responded with a tart post on its website that suggested France had abandoned nursing home residents to die from hunger and disease. Paris then summoned the Chinese ambassador, one of an aggressive group of propagandists known as “Wolf Warrior” diplomats, for a dressing-down.