That China, an irresponsible global actor, triggered a global pandemic should surprise no one. Even before the outbreak of COVID-19 many of the actions directed by the Chinese Communist Party have been destabilizing, undermining the peace and prosperity of the free world.
The question is, what now? How the U.S. responds to this threat is crucial. Like beating back the plague, the cure can’t be worse than the disease.
Hardcore panda-haters in Washington are eager to declare a jihad on Beijing, including banning trade, breaking off relations and demanding reparations. The ire is understandable, but there is a big problem with that approach.
Problem number one: The focus is wrong. Right now the single most important mission is getting the U.S. economy and the economy of critical friends and allies up and running. We have to, for example, be concerned at the possibility that Mexican factories, which make critical components for U.S. industries, could be overwhelmed by COVID-19. We can’t assume all our economies will simply bounce back.
The world has never seen an economic disruption like this before. We’ve had depressions. We’ve had recessions. We’ve never voluntarily suppressed economies. No one knows what will happen when we throw the “on” switch. We have to lean forward, focusing first on getting business back in business.
Folks who want to rejigger the global economy to exclude China are, in a way, in the same camp with those who want to implement the Green New Deal, impose universal health care, and restructure capitalism. They couldn’t have picked a worse time. It’s like thinking about remodeling the house while it’s burning. Job one: extinguish the fire. By the same token, it’s best to get the economy up and running first.
That in no way means anyone should let Beijing off the hook. What we need are tools that tame the Chinese Communist party’s worst designs while making America strong.
The foundation of smart strategy in a long-term competition is to take steps that punish your competitor, but at the same time protect and enrich your competitive advantages. Keeping America free, safe and prosperous is at least as important as punishing China, if not more so. Here are three steps that fill the bill:
► Push transparency. The more the free world makes transparent to the world the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) mendacious actions, the more folks will rethink how and when they do business with China.
For starters, the U.S. and its allies should fully investigate the CCP’s role in the coronavirus outbreak. There are also plenty of other actions that ought to be exposed more thoroughly, from predatory lending to corruption, disinformation, meddling in other countries, intellectual property theft, and widespread human-rights abuses, to name only a few.
The more people know, the more risk-informed decisions they will make in dealing with China. That will take the excuse “we just didn’t know” off the table.
► Make it easier to make in America. Don’t ask, “How can we force people to stop doing business in China?” Ask, “What obstacles can we remove to make it easier for people to do business here?”
Let’s look at the federal, state and local level and ask what red tape and other impediments to doing business we can trash. Tele-medicine and the use of drones are good examples. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, there were all kinds of reasons and rules to prevent exploiting these technology innovations. Out of desperation, many of them have fallen by the wayside.
Let’s be more proactive. From advanced manufacturing to the gig economy, let’s make it easier to put people to work.
► Trade with our friends. China is not our only trade and supply chain option. Let’s figure out how to do more business with our allies.
It is ridiculous, for example, that the U.S. and Europe can’t partner on viable free-market options for 5G telecom networks. We shouldn’t have to buy from the telecom company Hauwei, a tool of the CCP, and accept all the security risks that brings.
These are steps that governments, the private sector and civil society can take right now. They would help, not hinder, our efforts to restart the economy. They are practical, suitable and feasible.
Most of all, they would signal the CCP that the free world is nobody’s patsy anymore.
By James Jay Carafano
Heritage Foundation vice president