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Nisid Hajari

Don't Worry (Yet) About China Taking Over the World

Its conduct on the coronavirus so far suggests a follower, not a leader—even as the U.S. has withdrawn.

Who’s in charge?

Who’s in charge?

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Among the many threats posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Washington’s national-security hawks have fixated on one: China, they warn, is exploiting the crisis to further its goal of replacing the U.S. as the globe’s preeminent leader. But what should be even more worrying than a China that’s aspiring to global leadership is a China that isn’t.

And so far, the signs point more to the latter.

Take China’s reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision this week to suspend funding for the World Health Organization for 60 days. The move was ostensibly driven by Beijing’s suborning of WHO officials, who took at face value many of China’s initially misleading statements about the spread of the new coronavirus. China piously joined others in condemning the U.S. decision, warning about the consequences for poorer nations struggling to cope with the pandemic.