Piñera, Xi Talk Coronavirus, Bilateral Relations

SANTIAGO – President Sebastián Piñera and China’s Xi Jinping talked via phone on Friday. The most pressing topic was the coronavirus. Both leaders emphasized the importance of a coordinated global response.

In a press release, the government said Piñera and Xi discussed the coronavirus outbreak. The Chilean president congratulated China for having “confronted this situation with will and determination, taking extraordinary measures to contain this epidemic through prevention and control measures in an open and responsible manner.” Piñera offered to send health specialists to China to help combat the crisis and learn from the measures authorities took.

Although no case of covid-19 has been reported in Chile, about 400 persons are being monitored. And at a press conference earlier this week, health undersecretary Arturo Zúñiga said authorities expect the first cases soon.

President Xi told Piñera in the call that China focused on prevention and control of the virus, and on developing vaccines. He also promised to support Piñera in Chile’s current social crisis.

To help smaller countries manage the coronavirus spread, the two leaders agreed on the importance of coordinating through the World Health Organization and collaboration from the international community, especially since both countries would share a commitment to multilateralism.

But this is more sweet-talk developed by Piñera’s advisers than reality. Chile left the multilateral path when it rejected the UN migration pact, and China claims swaths of the South China Sea without regard for international treaties or the opposition of the international community both countries deem critical to help in the coronavirus crisis.

Between the lines, the government’s press office thus said that both countries commit to multilateralism when it fits their interests. This means they commit to a globally coordinated response to the virus only as far as measures don’t touch sensitive terrain.

Chile’s leader did apparently not seek clarification on reports China manipulated coronavirus data and wasted time due to ineffective management and propaganda. Human rights and democracy were also not discussed.

Both countries enjoy robust diplomatic relations. The government emphasized common interests in combating climate change and advancing free trade. It also reiterated its interest to become a benefactor of China’s Belt and Road initiative, a massive infrastructure program with which Beijing seeks to stabilize its economy and generate jobs for its rising middle class.

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