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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 7)

All News 06:58 May 07, 2020

Stop blame-game
Economy, vaccine should be first on radar

Warning lights are flashing on the international front over a looming confrontation between the United States and China over the COVID-19 pandemic. The worrisome element for South Korea is that the two countries are its top trading partners.

In recent days, U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have speculated that the coronavirus behind the pandemic came from a lab in Wuhan, China. In an interview Pompeo said that there was "enormous evidence" that the coronavirus may have emerged from the Chinese lab.

Chinese state media have blasted the remarks, and the state-laboratory in Wuhan has dismissed the allegations. The top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci in an interview with National Geographic published Monday also said that the best evidence showed the virus was not made in a lab in China. He added that leading scientists believe the virus "evolved in nature and jumped species." As the tit-for-tat continued, the World Health Organization has called for a science-based inquiry.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, causing more than 250,000 deaths worldwide. It is still a long way off before the nature and behavior of COVID-19 is identified, and a treatment and vaccine found. Surely, the timing of the top world powers' blame-game cannot help in achieving these goals. Without any clear answers yet, the world leaders may be tempted to look to external factors for accountability. The hegemonic rivalry among the world's superpowers is itself a compelling force that may drive their political logic.

But the state of the world economy and pursuit for certainty in controlling the pandemic should lead our steps. The International Monetary Fund has forecast world economy will contract 3 percent this year, as a direct result of the pandemic's impact. For Korea, the IMF predicted a 1.2 percent contraction for the year. The export-dependent South Korea saw April shipments drop 24.3 percent year-on-year, and saw its 98 months of a continued trade surplus end.

As trade partners, China and the United States are the country's two top destinations. When the trade war escalated between Washington and Beijing in 2019, Seoul suffered an $11 billion loss on outbound shipments, government statistics showed.

South Korea has fared relatively well in the COVID-19 battle, because of its previous run-in with infectious diseases including MERS. Placed in a geopolitically sensitive area, Korea has felt and dealt with rumbling fault lines over trade and security between the two nations before. The government is on the hook here to have an equi-distancing plan to flexibly respond to the burgeoning tensions, and play a leading intermediary role if possible.
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