US failed to 'read the signs coming out of China' when outbreak started: George Yeo

He said the differences between the U.S. and China have made mounting a global campaign against the pandemic more difficult.

Kayla Wong| April 20, 04:08 PM

The bad relations between the United States and China contributed to the "unwillingness or inability" of the U.S. to read the signs coming out of China, Singapore's former foreign minister George Yeo told Business Times (BT) in an email interview.

Yeo also said that the differences between the U.S. and China have certainly made it more difficult to mount a global campaign against Covid-19.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria through a video call on Mar. 29, had earlier said that for the world to "deal with this virus, you have got to get all the countries to be working together, in particular, the U.S. and China". 

Delay in G20's response to pandemic

Yeo was answering the question if differences between the two major powers have caused the delay in the Group of 20 (G20) leaders' response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

G20 refers to the world's 20 major industrialised nations.

Yeo continued to say that when the viral outbreak hit China, the U.S. "offered aid but none was delivered".

Thereafter, when American leaders started blaming China for the epidemic, China "countered with allegations of its own".

Yeo added that the stark reality is that no one is safe until everyone is safe.

WHO unfairly criticised by Trump and the West

Yeo further said the World Health Organisation (WHO) is the agency with the mandate to support this global effort, adding that the global health body has "done a good job responding to the pandemic and alerting the world to it".

In addition, he said the WHO's support for China's measures has been "unfairly criticised in the West especially in the U.S."

The U.S. President Donald Trump has decided to put "a large part of the blame squarely" on the WHO, saying things like it has been too China-centric, Yeo added.

Xi not slow in calling for global cooperation

When asked which other G20 leader has been slow in generating global action besides Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Yeo said the latter "has not been slow off the mark at all".

Xi has "asked for global cooperation and joint action" at the recent G20 video summit held on March 26, he said.

Screengrab via CGTN/YouTube

He added: "China is more than happy to share its own painful experience with the rest of the world."

Yeo also said until a good vaccine is found, China knows it will always be "vulnerable" for as long as the rest of the world is affected by the pandemic.

Calls for the U.S. to play a leading role

Yeo also said Trump has "never been a fan of multilateralism", adding that the U.S. should play a leading role as it has the scientific capability and the experience to do so.

As for the future in a post-pandemic world, Yeo foresees a change in the nature of globalisation.

He said as countries try to reduce their future vulnerability not only to pandemics, but also to other external shocks, there will be greater localisation.

"The future will be globalisation with localisation", he added.

You can read the entire interview here.

Yeo one of 165 global leaders who signed open letter to G20

Yeo was one of the 165 current and former global leaders who signed an open letter to the G20 leaders that called for a US$8 billion (S$11.4 billion) in emergency global health funding to speed up the search for a vaccine and cure for Covid-19, The New York Times reported.

The letter, released on April 7, also expressed the signatories' dissatisfaction with the response from the G20 so far.

Other signatories included former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 92 former presidents and prime ministers, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the current prime ministers of Bangladesh and Ethiopia, and billionaire George Soros.

Top image via Getty Images