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To date, it’s estimated that more than 85,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. We owe it to these Americans to let the pandemic also kill the last vestiges of the notion that China is our friend.
Since the 1970s, Washington and Wall Street have believed that giving China a stake in the international system would lead to a China that respected the rule of law and was moving toward democracy. While many foreign policy experts pursued this counterfactual pipedream, Beijing was building its economy on the backs of American workers, developing a world-class military, and seeking in countless other ways to displace the United States as the dominant power in Asia.
The coronavirus starkly demonstrates just how wrong this theory was.
Let’s face facts. Senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership knew about the coronavirus – knew that left unchecked it would become a global pandemic – and had enough evidence to suspect human-to-human transmission was possible well before they let the world know.
Moreover, Beijing’s failures to halt international travel out of Wuhan created a pandemic that has infected 4.5 million people across the globe. And as time goes on, we keep learning that the CCP knew more, and earlier, about the virus, and they hid that knowledge from the rest of the world.
Of course warning the world would have hurt China’s reputation and slowed its economic growth, the prime source of CCP legitimacy. But this is the world the CCP wants to live in – a world where its interests overrule any concerns about human life or international obligations.
While our national security establishment has woken up over the past few years, the coronavirus highlights just how much the economy is still blind to these facts. We are far too dependent on China, and our critical supply chains are thoroughly entangled with its economy.
Before the pandemic, there were growing alarms about dependence on China. In 2018, a Department of Defense report found the U.S. military was becoming dangerously dependent on China for critical components and hardware. And as recent trade tensions show, this dependence extends to many sectors of the U.S. economy.
The current pandemic, however, has brought into sharp, ugly focus just how dependent we are. With headlines blaring that we rely on China for personal protective equipment and pharmaceuticals (often substandard), the American people are realizing firsthand just what dependence truly means.
All rich economies are trading economies. That said, many benefits of trade go missing if one side – in this case, China – is a perpetual cheater.
For decades, the CCP has prevented American companies from fairly competing in China. They have stolen our intellectual property worth trillions of dollars either through hacking, unfair rules or spying (yes, they have even tried to hack our coronavirus vaccine research). They bully airlines and the NBA when they don’t follow the CCP party line on Taiwan or Hong Kong.
And worse for American workers, the CCP has decimated our manufacturing sector through currency manipulation, dumping products like steel and aluminum, and policies designed to corner the market on key industries. This has stolen untold sums from our economy and deprived middle- and working-class Americans from countless good-paying jobs.
When President John F. Kennedy promised Americans that our nation would put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, he knew we could rely on supply chains in the free world. But imagine if, when he made that pledge, our rocket engines and rocket fuel depended on the Soviet Union. We are in an analogous position with China today.
China is our number one strategic competitor. When it comes to supply chains, our economy hasn’t behaved like it. Now more than ever, we owe it to all the Americans who have died from the CCP-turbocharged coronavirus, to change that.