May 19, 2020

US-China Relations

On Monday, “The World Health Organization [kicked] off its first ever virtual assembly, but fears abound that US-China tensions could derail the strong action needed to address the COVID-19 crisis.” AFP

“China supports a comprehensive review of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic led by the World Health Organization (WHO) after the virus that causes the disease is brought under control, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Monday.” Reuters

Both sides urge the US to take a stronger stance regarding Taiwan:

“When the coronavirus emerged from Wuhan, Taiwan moved quickly to head it off. Authorities seized on past experience from the 2003 SARS outbreak and leveraged the island’s strong technology sector to bring the virus under control without the draconian measures used in mainland China. With a population of 23 million—more than New York State—and only 110 miles from China, Taiwan has recorded 440 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and just seven deaths. The island has gone more than 30 days without a new locally transmitted infection…

“As China looks to grow its power by offering health and financial assistance to countries hit hard by the coronavirus, the outbreak has presented an opportunity for Taiwan to solidify itself as the antithesis of Beijing: a democratic and reliable international partner that, after controlling the virus at home, can assist governments as far afield, and as powerful, as America’s—despite Taipei’s exclusion from much of the international community’s formal workings. It has sought to demonstrate that moves to isolate the self-governing island are counterproductive. Indeed, the pandemic is shaping up to be a moment of global recognition for Taiwan.”
Timothy McLaughlin, The Atlantic

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) writes, “It's up to the United States to stand up for Taiwan to ensure its contributions are acknowledged and its democratic aspirations are respected. The United States should continue to push for Taiwan's meaningful participation in international organizations like the WHO and United Nations. If observer status isn't granted, we could even invite Taiwanese officials as guests, as the Trump administration did last year at a religious freedom event hosted at the United Nations…

“Taiwan must also be supported militarily, recognizing that its freedom is vital to maintaining an open and prosperous Asia-Pacific region. We can advance this goal by including Taiwan in military exercises in the region like RIMPAC and continuing sales of asymmetric, survivable arms to Taiwan so it is equipped to defend itself. Finally, we can cultivate deeper commercial ties with Taiwan, which is already our tenth-largest trading partner in goods.”
Tom Cotton, Newsweek

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“As for China downplaying the crisis at first—yes, it did, and it paid a big price for that. But was China unique in such sins? I recall a U.S. president assuring us in late February that the number of coronavirus cases ‘within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.’ As for medical supplies, it’s hard to blame China for holding onto its stores and blocking their export. In January, China, and only China, was in crisis, and it was short of supplies. Today, every sane country is trying to hoard its own medical supplies, much as China did…

“That leaves the idea that China cost us all valuable time, because we couldn’t see what was happening. Somehow, the lockdown of 50 million people and the standstill of the world’s manufacturing behemoth at the end of January wasn’t enough of a clue. Of course, in theory, knowing everything a few weeks earlier may have made all the difference… [But] It wasn’t China that led Trump to spend February attending rallies and fundraisers across the country and take a trip to India and ignore the problem for week after week as cases spread. It wasn’t China that made budget hawks in the White House deny requests for preparation funding.”
T. A. Frank, Vanity Fair

“We have been critical of China’s early coverup of the outbreak in Wuhan, which hampered the response. Nor was it smart of the WHO to lavish praise on China when the concealment was evident. But Mr. Xi’s announcement Monday shows a desire by Beijing to remain engaged in fighting the pandemic, wield influence at the WHO and be at the table when the lessons of the disaster are weighed… Where was President Trump?…The coronavirus traversed the world. The response must be global as well. The United States gains nothing by retreating into a shell — especially when China is reaching out.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“Reasonable people can, and do, disagree on [the] ideal China strategy. But in this case, there has been no strategy at all. An administration that wanted to confront China successfully would strengthen America’s other alliances, build US influence in Asia, reinforce our commitments in Europe, invest in retaining the world’s respect and trust. Trump has done none of that… ‘We increasingly feel caught between a reckless China and a feckless America that no longer seems to care about its allies,’ Michael Fullilove, head of Australia’s largest think-tank, told the Financial Times…

“The rising tensions between the US and China worsen almost every existential or catastrophic threat facing the US. Coronavirus could have been a warning, a signal of how quickly catastrophe can overwhelm us in the absence of cooperation. Instead, it’s been used to pump more hostility, more enmity, more volatility into the most important bilateral relationship in the world. That is a political choice Trump has made.”
Ezra Klein, Vox

Some argue, “For all the intemperate language, there’s less to this latest clash than meets the eye. Trump and Beijing are both adept at filling their diplomatic language with sound and fury, signifying nothing… Three years into a simmering trade war, direct investment in China by U.S. businesses in 2019 was running at the $14 billion a year level it’s followed in almost every year since 2005… Whenever leaders bicker it’s worth remembering that the real ties between nations are among people and businesses, rather than diplomats and presidents. At that level, the relationship still remains hearteningly warm.”
David Fickling, Bloomberg

From the Right

“There is good reason to believe that the Chinese government sees the global pandemic as an opportunity. With almost every government of every country in the world attempting to get a handle on the outbreak, China is free to make moves that otherwise would bring international rebukes. In Hong Kong, pro-Chinese lawmakers are having their rivals dragged out of the chamber… In another demonstration of growing Chinese power in Hong Kong, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday he believed China had threatened to interfere with the work of U.S. journalists in Hong Kong.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“The U.S.-led coalition is entering a period of great risk. If we cannot fully represent and defend our allies [near the South China Sea], they may choose to make their peace with China, on China’s terms. That means American destroyers can cruise up and down, declaiming Chinese aggression all they want. But the bitter reality will be that everyone else will be notifying the Chinese coast guard that ship X will be transiting, on this day, and along this track, and proffer whatever official applications such passage demands. How then can we reassure Japan, South Korea, and especially Taiwan, that we will, for sure, be there for them?”
Michael Vlahos, The American Conservative

Regarding the formation of a China Task Force by House Republicans, “In justifying their desire to reorient American foreign policy toward containing the Chinese Communist Party, task-force members need only point to recent history, whether it be China’s hack of the Office of Personnel Management in 2015, its brutal treatment of Uighur Muslims, or its crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong last fall…

“In interviews, task-force members presented a broad suite of potential legislative reforms, ranging from increased investment in space defense, to finding new international partners for rare-earth minerals, to exposing China’s theft of research from American universities. Sources with direct knowledge of the task force’s workings tell National Review that China’s record of human-rights abuses, its high levels of pollution, and its forays into artificial intelligence were also discussed on the group’s opening call.”
Tobias Hoonhunt, National Review

Some argue, “The New Cold Warriors can’t contain China given its ties throughout the world; other countries won’t join us. Nor can the U.S. break the regime, though the Communist Party’s flaws could open cracks within its own society. The U.S. can impose costs on China, but to what end, and at what price to Americans? After three years of bluster and tariffs, President Trump negotiated a narrow trade deal with China. Even before the pandemic the deal was unlikely to be fulfilled, and now it looks fanciful…

“Beijing was once a wartime enemy, a supplier of proxy foes in North Korea and North Vietnam, and the world’s leading proliferator of missiles and nuclear weapons technology. Beginning in the 1990s, China reversed course and worked with the U.S. to control dangerous weapons. It turned from proliferation partnerships with Iran and North Korea to helping the U.S. thwart their development of nuclear arms...

“From 2000 to 2018, U.S. diplomacy prodded Beijing to support 182 of the 190 United Nations Security Council resolutions that imposed sanctions on states… Proponents of heightening the conflict with China understate the diplomatic successes of recent years.”
Robert B. Zoellick, Wall Street Journal

A libertarian's take

“Egged on by China hawks in Congress, the Trump administration has been weighing options for retribution, including demands for ‘reparations.’ Ideas include confiscating the $1 trillion in U.S. Treasuries owned by China and suspending our interest payments, repealing China’s ‘sovereign immunity’ so that it can be exposed to a raft of lawsuits, and – President Trump’s go-to option – imposing further tariffs on Chinese goods to extract compensation…

Each one of those actions would blow up in America’s face. Repudiating debt would harm the credit worthiness of the United States for decades, permanently raising the cost of borrowing for the federal government. Suspending interest payments would cause the same reputational damage without saving much for the Treasury. Ending sovereign immunity for China would expose the United States to the same risk, inviting lawsuits from around the world against the U.S. government for a Pandora’s Box of alleged misdeeds… [And] numerous studies have concluded that it is American importers and consumers who pay the cost of those tariffs through higher prices. A new round of retaliatory COVID-19 tariffs against China would be no different.”
Daniel Griswold, The Hill

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