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Many China analysts have concluded the Chinese leadership saw in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic an opportunity to advance China’s strategic agenda because other countries would be distracted by their internal struggles with the virus. (Examples are here, here and here.) The U.S. government, as well, took this interpretation. Morgan Ortagus, U.S. State Department spokeswoman, said in April, “The United States strongly opposes PRC efforts to take advantage of the region’s focus on addressing the COVID pandemic in order to coerce its neighbors in the region.”

This narrative is erroneous. The pandemic was much more a liability than a boon for Beijing’s efforts to promote China’s international reputation and agenda, and the theory that it caused more aggressive Chinese foreign policy moves does not withstand close scrutiny.

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