Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and China’s President Xi Jinping shake hands prior to their talks on the sideline of the 11th edition of the BRICS Summit, in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.The BRICS Summit, gathering the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, will take place in Brasilia Nov. 13-14. (Ramil Sitdikov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
China has long been a hot topic on the right.
Unfortunately, any argument that goes past the status quo usually ends with sneers and accusations of being “economically illiterate.” The wing of the Republican party which places free trade above all else is dominant, and understandably so in some respects. It is true that markets perform best without trade barriers. It’s also true that a lack of barriers involving China has undoubtedly helped our economy, at least in the short term. The computer you are using to read this article costs what it costs because of the existence of manufacturing in China.
But looking at China only through an economic lens has proven foolhardy, and many conservatives saw this coming long before the outbreak of Wuhan coronavirus we are seeing now. As I wrote last year (see Republicans Should Stop Talking Out of Both Sides of Their Mouths On China), Republican messaging on China has been a convoluted mess.
When Trump started hitting China early in his tenure, the Republican response should have been to steer him into doing it for the right reasons (to blunt Chinese aggression and influence), not castigating him for trying at all and demanding he let China do whatever they want just because it may benefit us financially.
You can’t demand unfettered free trade with China out of one side your mouth and then proclaim the vast, dangerous evils of China out of the other. That is a contradiction that can not be squared and Republicans should stop trying to do so.
It’s good to see some are finally getting the message, but they need to keep their eye on the ball going forward. China will be far, far more dangerous 20-30 years from now if we continue to so heavily rely on them, passing mountains of cash in their direction and tying our well-being so tightly to a repressive regime. It’s fair to say that I even part ways with the President on this matter. I don’t think we need a “better deal” with China. I think we need to push American businesses to ween themselves off the communist teat completely. The long term gain and security will far outweigh the short term pain.
We cannot continue to pretend that free trade with China has no consequences, as has been the typical fall back on the right. Perhaps we are reaching an inflection point, though? I’m seeing more and more conservatives who originally scoffed at taking on China economically softening to the idea of getting tough with the Communists.
The truth is, claims that the trade war “only hurts the U.S.” have always been completely false. Yes, trade wars have financial costs for both sides, but there’s no doubt China has taken the brunt of the damage so far. The inability to admit that has been a frustrating point of contention in discussions on the matter because it supposes that we simply punt on the leverage we’ve gained.
Things have escalated though, with the questions of how to proceed no longer just centering around China going after the NBA last year, which is where you started to see some breaks in the conventional wisdom form. We face a world-wide pandemic of Wuhan coronavirus due to the lying and incompetence of the Chinese, a country that we’ve wrapped so much of our well being into with little care for the long term consequences.
China-skeptical conservatives, despite being previously berated by many on their own side, were right all along.
It’s time for some to stop blindly worshiping at the altar of free trade, admit there were miscalculations, and take further action. We are going to come out of the other side of this latest crisis, and when we do, how we respond will be key. We have more leverage over China now than we have at any point in the last three decades. Any calls to return to the status quo because of short term pain should be ignored. This is no longer just a financial question and hasn’t been for a long time. The national security concerns are real, and creating a sustainable environment for future generations must take priority. China is not going to liberalize. That was a pipe dream and we continue to chase it to our own detriment.
Conservatives have a chance to lead on this issue, recognizing that we can’t keep repeating the same talking points. The American people aren’t buying them anymore and for good reason. It’s time to get tough on China so we can begin the process of extricating ourselves from our dependence on them, even if it hurts.