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Editorial: The coronavirus crisis is shaking the international order

AS Jeremy Corbyn observes over ongoing efforts to put a roof over the head of every homeless person during the Covid-19 epidemic, if it is possible now it was possible before — the crisis calls for a reassessment of government priorities.

That clash of priorities is clearer still in the United States, where the Donald Trump administration has oscillated between promising massive state intervention and irresponsible talk of ensuring the US is soon “open for business” again, whatever the public health advice.

And it is playing out on the international stage, where the rapid and unconditional delivery of medical assistance to afflicted countries by China and Cuba stands in sharp contrast to the actions of the world’s richer countries.

It can seem as if the world has turned upside down when Tory Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab thanks socialist Cuba in the House of Commons for being the only country willing to allow a ship carrying infected British citizens to dock so they can be repatriated by air.

Or when Lombardy’s right-wing Health Minister Giulio Gallera of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party slams the European Union for its lack of solidarity and announces: “We are in touch with Cuba, Venezuela and China, who have made doctors available.”

Within the EU, Italy and Germany seize respirators intended for Greece; the Czech Republic does the same to a cargo headed Italy’s way.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte angrily rejects a joint statement on the EU response to the crisis, demanding — with Spain — that more is done to assist the worst-affected countries without saddling them, as German and Dutch proposals would, with unsustainable future debt.

As Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic had it, European solidarity has proved “a fairy tale.”

But even these sordid manoeuvrings don’t stoop so low as the United States.

Washington has not only ignored appeals from Russia and China to lift crippling sanctions on Iran for the duration of the emergency, as evidence mounts of the lethal impact they are having on a resource-starved healthcare system there.

It actually intensified its economic war on the country this week, slapping new sanctions on five more companies and numerous individuals on Thursday as Iran’s death toll rose to 2,234.

And now the US ramps up its persecution of the elected Venezuelan government, demanding the arrest of its legitimate President Nicolas Maduro on unfounded charges of “narco-terrorism.”

This frenetic aggression can only be read as a crude bid by Washington to assert its global supremacy at a time when traditional allies are questioning it.

The White House’s angry injunction to countries not to accept Cuban medical assistance is clearly prompted by the gratitude being expressed the world over for this aid, with even Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who made a meal out of kicking out Cuban medical missions last year, now pleading for them to return.

So too is Trump’s sullen insistence on using the term “Chinese virus” to describe Covid-19 explained by the need to counter the goodwill China has won by rushing equipment and medics to countries from the Philippines to Spain.

As governments battle to contain a deadly pandemic, many are inclined to reject attempts to enforce the pre-crisis international order.

Italy and Spain are standing up to Germany and few countries are heeding US rebukes for taking Cuban help.

The labour movement must exert pressure on our government to join the growing international clamour for the US to lift its murderous sanctions on perceived “enemy” states.

And we must push for a more permanent transformation of our international relations that sees us leave the imperialist Nato alliance and pursue a foreign policy based on peace and co-operation instead of exploitation and war.

We must not forget who extended the hand of friendship in our time of need.

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