Avoiding War With China

Relations between the U.S. and China have hit an all-time low. As the election nears, expect them to plunge lower. That’s because Trump is campaigning against China, hoping for a surge of xenophobic hatred to sweep him back into the white house. The charge is that China caused Covid-19 – possibly in a lab, but if not, worsened the plague with its secrecy and lies at the pandemic’s start. This is nonsense. The Chinese government’s first instinct may have been to cover up, but it quickly did an about-face. It certainly didn’t dilly dally about fighting the disease as long as Trump did. As for the accusation that China underreported fatalities, it is irrelevant even if true; China quickly warned the world that this was a killer plague and promptly locked down. There was no mystery, no grand deceit. If China undercounted its dead, that did not alter the message: disaster was coming and you better prepare. Which is exactly what the Trump regime did not do.

As for the charge that Covid-19 was deliberately released from a lab – that is idiotic. Why would China unleash a bio-weapon on its own people? Regarding the claim that the virus escaped accidentally, most scientists consider this unlikely and most do not regard it as a virus made worse by gain-of-function tampering (gain of function being genetic modification to make a virus more deadly). Some disagree, but most probably, Covid-19 is a naturally occurring virus, related to SARS and MERS. It may not have even originated in Wuhan. Still, the mere chance that such an unintended viral release could occur should give us pause: it argues for shutting down all bio-weapons labs – in the U.S., China, Russia, everywhere. It should also lead to an immediate and global ban on all gain-of-function research on deadly pathogens.

The bash-China bandwagon keeps getting more crowded. On June 6, Florida Senator Rick Scott jumped on, claiming he had proof of China trying to sabotage a Covid-19 vaccine. China replied succinctly: show your proof. Scott didn’t. Only a nitwit could make this charge, for the simple reason that China has no interest in sabotaging a vaccine. Quite the contrary. But if what Scott meant was that China wanted to steal vaccine research, well, that speaks to the nightmare effects of Western patents on drug prices. If China stole such information, that could lead to a generic vaccine, and thus a cheaper one. Basically a win for humanity, though perhaps not for the pharmaceutical companies with whom Scott might like to curry favor.

Two people driving this bash-China bandwagon are white house trade advisor Peter Navarro and a little known, former Wall Street Journal reporter now member of the National Security Council and rabid China-hater Matt Pottinger. In late April, the Washington Post recounted how Pottinger, as a reporter, was intimidated by the Chinese police and how hardline he now is against China, whose leaders “Pottinger believed, were engaging in a massive cover-up and a ‘psychological warfare’ operation to obscure the origins of the virus and deflect blame.” Pottinger has promoted the story that the pestilence originated in the Wuhan bio-weapons lab. Navarro has been busy too. On June 21 he claimed that it was an “open question” whether China had deliberately created Covid-19 and that the “virus was a product of the Chinese Communist Party.”

This hysterical, hardline view has become mainstream within the Trump regime. The Post quoted Trump’s former NSC adviser H.R. McMaster, saying that Pottinger is “central to the biggest shift in U.S. foreign policy since the Cold War, which is the competitive approach to China.” So far that competitive approach has been a bust: this imbecilic U.S. foreign policy has only managed to throw Russia and China into each other’s arms. Thus this competitive approach to China, which started with the Obama regime’s stupid and loathsome “pivot to China,” combined with the phony Russiagate fiasco, has created the humongous Russia-China alliance, which decades ago a far more intelligently diplomatic president, Richard Nixon of all people, managed to avert. The warmongers are dimwits. They strut across the globe creating enemies wherever they go.

Uber-hawks Pottinger and Navarro have pushed for decoupling the U.S. and Chinese economies. This is a fraught proposition. The campaign rhetoric that China stole U.S. jobs may go over well with the rubes in the base, but in reality, U.S. corporations moved jobs to China for the cheap labor. So far, those corporations have not rushed to repatriate those jobs. Trump’s trade war complicates the economic picture, as U.S. farmers learned when it lost them the enormous Chinese market for agricultural products like soy. Many farmers went bankrupt. Trump is now attempting to buy off those who didn’t by showering them with stimulus funds. Meanwhile the U.S. economy has tanked, with over 40 million unemployed. The economic decoupling from China could not have come at a worse time.

Not surprisingly in this acrimonious atmosphere, the U.S. government supported anti-China riots in Hong Kong last year, with House leader Nancy Pelosi even calling them “beautiful.” The riots were extremely violent, with many innocent bystanders brutalized. One leader, Joshua Wong, reportedly received money from the National Endowment for Democracy, which now does work the CIA used to do, allegedly fomenting color revolutions and regime change in foreign countries. The Trump regime did not deplore the Hong Kong violence. Quite the opposite. And this attitude was noted by the CCP, which called out U.S. hypocrisy toward protesters when the Floyd rebellion broke out here.

Then on June 4, Trump revoked Hong Kong’s special status. This was intended as a slap in the face, but for complicated reasons didn’t quite succeed. Still it’s the thought that counts, and China surely noted it. So: a U.S.-initiated trade war, blaming China for the pandemic, threatening to make it pay trillions of dollars in damages, fomenting insurrection in Hong Kong, sanctions, going after the Chinese high tech firm Huawei by having a senior corporate official detained in Canada, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hectoring Europeans, as he did last week, to sever economic ties to China, simmering U.S. propaganda that consistently exaggerates the numbers of minority Uyghurs detained in camps and making ridiculous demands that China suddenly participate in the START talks (when China only has 300 nukes to the U.S. and Russia’s 6000) and using its absence to try to embarrass the Chinese. If all that’s not belligerent and provocative enough, there’s the U.S. navy off the coast of China in the South China Sea. At the end of May, the guided missile destroyer USS Mustin sailed near the Chinese-claimed Paracel Islands, in a direct affront to China. This came on the heels of Trump regime plans to deploy long-range ground-launched cruise missiles in the region, which it can now do, having ditched the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty for just this purpose.

Japanese and other Asian countries’ officials indicated in early June that they were not enthusiastic about Pentagon plans to threaten China by basing missiles of any sort in their territory. But, according to the Los Angeles Times, “Pentagon planners aren’t backing down.” You bet they aren’t. China is the military game in town now, and the Pentagon’s got a few psychotic Dr. Strangeloves who really believe in winnable nuclear wars. They have long eyed China and its powerful navy with hostility and alarm, and now they have a figurehead in the white house who needs a bogeyman. They are delighted he has selected China.

For those who may have hoped Trump would drop the Obama regime’s odious “pivot to China,” things have not worked out. They have deteriorated. U.S. and China relations now threaten divorce. Let’s just hope the supposedly anti-interventionist Trump doesn’t bumble into a war to win an election. Each escalation, each threat, each act of hostility makes that more likely. Ramping up tensions is a dangerous game. Because a war with China, which could well draw in China’s close ally Russia, could end life on earth.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.