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Foreign Policy

US Faces a Hard Choice about China

Apr 17, 2020
  • George Koo

    Retired International Business Consultant and Contributor to Asia Times


Click here to read the special coverage of COVID-19

US President Donald Trump lives by one dictum: He takes no responsibility. And therefore, he can’t make mistakes and thus is never wrong. Further, he expects unfailing and unconditional adoration.

Many who aspire to serve in his administration have gone through the revolving door for failing to meet his perceived threshold of loyalty. This hasn’t just led to the coalescence of a coterie of obsequious men and women around him but, far more damaging, Trump has bent the integrity and besmirched the honor of America.

A case in point. Recently an open letter was addressed to the White House urging the Trump administration to turn from attacking to working with China. It was signed by 100 prominent China scholars and former government officials under the joint banner of the Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations and the 21st Century China Center at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.

100 urged Trump to work with China

The letter very sensibly points out that all the nations need to work together to battle a pandemic that knows no national boundaries. Specifically, it said: “No effort against the coronavirus – whether to save American lives at home or combat the disease abroad – will be successful without some degree of cooperation between the United States and China.”

“Some degree of cooperation,” the letter said is already a bit of equivocation, but the tiptoeing goes further. The letter reiterated the same Mike Pompeo accusations about China’s cover-up, lack of transparency etc, as if these assertions had become fact through repetition by the current State Department, a department being led by a cabinet officer who draws heavily on his lie, cheat and steal CIA experience.

Many publications, including mine, have clearly established that Pompeo’s accusations of China were groundless. Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting subsequently cited four prestigious medical and science-based journals that independently verified and supported China’s denial of any fudging of their reports.

A week later, FAIR goes a step further and accuses the US State Department as the disseminator of fake information about the coronavirus; the very activity Pompeo has been accusing China of perpetrating. The post said: “There’s a patent irony here: The State Department is impugning enemies in order to distract from its own policy failures – exactly what it’s accusing those enemies of.”

At an April 2 press briefing at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, a Bloomberg reporter asked about the under-reporting of Covid-19 fatalities from China, as alleged by three unnamed US intelligence officials.  

At the mention of “unnamed officials,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying arched her eyebrows and responded that it’s a waste of time get into the blame game with American politicians. 

China challenged US to do better

She cited the detailed timeline of events and developments that China had posted on the internet, independently validated by a host of third-party organizations including the World Health Organization.

Hua then turned the tables and asked if the US had been in China’s place, could it have done better, that is, reacted faster and prevented more deaths? She reminded the Bloomberg reporter that Washington knew about the outbreak in early January. Yet as late as the end of February, Trump still insisted that all public health announcements from the federal government funnel through Vice-President Mike Pence – hardly at the level of transparency the US demanded of China.

Not informing the American public about the threat of the pandemic was bad enough, but not preparing to take Covid-19 seriously until late March takes away the moral authority for Trump to criticize any other country for negligence or lack of veracity. 

Given Trump’s personality, it’s easy to understand why the writers of the open letter, signed by distinguished ex-public servants and seasoned experts on China, felt the need for an obligatory genuflect toward the false representations from the White House. 

Take Dr Anthony Fauci, for example. He enjoys a worldwide reputation for his scientific expertise and experience in the treatment of infectious diseases. When pressed for an answer the public would accept, Trump would yield the podium to Fauci – which happened at nearly every briefing – to offer science-based information that could reassure a panic-stricken nation.

Even Fauci has been careful to couch his words gingerly and diplomatically lest he trips on Trump’s minefield loaded with off-the-cuff falsehoods and ego-driven distortions. While his longevity at NIH and past record of achievements might give him some job protection, Peter Navarro appears emboldened to lust after his job, envious of Fauci’s media star stature and banking on the credits of his undying loyalty to Trump.

Richard Grenell was so afraid of inadvertently making public statements that would anger Trump that he avoided appearing before the Congress to give testimony. He had just been appointed acting director of national intelligence based on his credentials of being slavishly loyal to Trump. Even so, Trump’s reputation had him quaking.





Trump is rude, crude and vindictive and he thrives on intimidation. At every White House briefing, he invariably hurls abusive insults at some hapless member of the press who has offended him in some way. His persona has forced the mainstream media such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post to adjust by compromising some principles of journalism in order to maintain access and continuity.

His style not only has changed the way news is reported, it has changed the nature of public discourse. Twisting public opinion against China became one of the biases accomplished by his hardline followers. If your white paper, with the best intentions to serve the public, does not give lip service to some parts of his half-truths and fake facts, the paper will be ignored. That’s my explanation for the capitulating concession in the open letter.

Pompeo’s lie, cheat, steal diplomacy

Unfortunately, the pandemic not only has raised the tension between the two countries, the coronavirus has also brought out the worst side of Trump’s America. The world saw rather emphatically that Trump’s idea of “America first” meant brutish bullying of other countries, friend and foe alike. 

Just google “hijacking medical supplies” and the reader would see a huge list of internet complaints accusing FEMA and the US of outbidding and outright commandeering pallets of masks and gowns intended for other countries – in one case snatched from the tarmac – and diverted them to US-bound planes. This is only one of the many posts. Not for nothing that Pompeo’s third arm of diplomacy is, “We steal.”

Any American with a sense of decency and fairness should feel embarrassed and ashamed.

The tragic case of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt also calls for another fundamental adjustment in US foreign policy. The carrier departed from its home port of San Diego on January 17, stopped at Guam on February 7 and after a short stay sailed on to Danang in Vietnam, docking there on March 5. Then matters became murky.

At the time the ship arrived in Danang, there were no known active Covid-19 cases in Vietnam. On March 8, two new cases of the virus appeared in Danang brought in by two British tourists. The ship departed from Danang the next day. On March 22, the first sailor on the carrier was diagnosed with Covid-19.

Which direction was the contagion transmitted, from Danang to the ship or from the ship to the Vietnamese? Given the normal 15-day incubation and typical asymptomatic contagious period of five days, the answer is not obvious without additional data to be taken from politically agnostic, science-based testing.

Rethinking ship deployment

The US Navy also owes the American public another explanation. According to Defense One, on February 28, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly ordered the Seventh Fleet ships to self-quarantine by staying at sea for 14 days. Yet the Roosevelt proceeded to Danang and docked there on March 5. Why, asked Asia Times?

The order to stay at sea obviously stemmed from the catastrophe that was taking place on the cruise ship Diamond Princess. The navy observed that when thousands of passengers and crew are on board a ship, disaster is just waiting for one sick person to trigger the contagion. The closer quarters on a naval ship is even more likely to incubate outbreaks.

Ordering the ships to remain at sea can be rationalized as a cynical command to see if any of the ships have asymptomatic sailors on board, that is, if anyone becomes sick later while in quarantine. As to why the Roosevelt continued on to Vietnam is a question waiting for the navy to explain.

So long as the threat of Covid-19 remains palpable, the Pentagon will need to recalculate the risk and reward of sending flotillas halfway around the world in the name of exercising the freedom of navigation on the South China Sea.

The danger for any ship while at sea, days and weeks away from land, is if an outbreak were to strike, the ship could cease to be combat able and may even just float dead in the water, depending on how fast the infection spreads over the ship. 

What should Joe Biden do?

Now that former vice-president Joe Biden has become Trump’s presumptive opponent, it will be necessary for Biden and his campaign team to take a top to bottom evaluation on where various issues stand.

The Trump campaign has already fired the first volley, accusing Biden of being too close to China and, not incidentally, the campaign clip also took a xenophobic swipe at Americans of Chinese ancestry. The New York Times said: “The ad, which calls Joe Biden soft on China and falsely suggests a former governor of Washington is Chinese, shows that President Trump plans to continue exploiting racial discord in his re-election bid.”

The one-minute spot was loaded with cheap shots designed to mislead and fool the uninformed. As vice-president, Biden made official visits to Beijing. Footage of his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping suggested something unsavory and implied that then ambassador Gary Locke accompanying Biden was a Chinese official.

As the election campaign heats up, Biden can expect a piling on of TV spots that will accuse him of being in Beijing’s pocket. With Steve Bannon, a master of misdirection and misinformation, advising Trump’s campaign, being close to China will just be one of the issues Biden will have to deal with. 

What should Biden do to counter? Should he counter by arguing that he is as anti-China as Trump or even more rabid? Surely that would put him on the defensive and exercising a losing strategy.

Instead, Biden should articulate an approach with China as diametrically different from Trump as possible. Talk about global trade rather than a tariff war, collaboration on battling the pandemic, joint leadership on climate change and a mutual contribution to the financial stability of the world. Those would be some of the major issues that expose Trump’s failure to deliver for the American people.

Biden’s job is to take a bold stand and explain to voters that working with China would boost the global economy, including the US. Conversely, by continuing on Trump’s trajectory of treating China as an adversary and decoupling from each other, the economy of both countries would shrink and assure a losing future for the people of America, and for the world.

Reprinted from Asia Times

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