China Backs Democratic Resistance to President Trump
Democratic governors are forming regional blocs to resist President Donald Trump’s efforts to get the American economy moving and put people back to work. They have picked up a powerful ally, one that should give the public cause for alarm. On April 19, the editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a major media outlet of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote an op-ed in which he stated “My advice is to focus China-US anti-epidemic cooperation with US states, while giving the federal government a cold shoulder.” Like the Democrats, Hu Xijin attacked Trump’s policies and proclaimed, “China needs to take necessary actions and express its strong dissatisfaction.” The graphic accompanying Hu’s column showed an American fist slamming down in a demand for action being held in check by a Chinese hand held up signaling stop.
There is every reason for Beijing to want America’s economic downturn and political turmoil to continue as long as possible while it recovers from the effects of the pandemic. The regime has been pushing hard to reopen the economy and declare that its position as the center of worldwide manufacturing has not been weakened by the crisis. Indeed, an essay in the state-run China Daily proclaimed on April 14, “Global Reliance on China Won’t Reduce.” It asserted, “Even if more regionalized and diversified supply chains would reduce risks, China retains considerable competitive advantages in many areas, such as electronics and machinery and equipment manufacturing.” New “investments will help China build on recent progress in even more high-tech sectors, including big data, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and the industrial internet. Which in turn will deepen China's integration into the global technological supply chain.” On March 24, it was declared that Dongfeng Honda, the largest industrial enterprise in Wuhan, which runs three factories producing over 3,000 cars per day, was up and running. Beijing also claimed that most industry outside the Wuhan area was already back in operation.
Even earlier, on February 28, China Daily reported "If the central authorities' policies can be implemented to the letter, the real economy and the job markets could be gradually stabilized in the first quarter, laying a solid groundwork for a quick and strong recovery in the following quarters." The piece also claimed that exports will boost recovery -- which means along with domestic fiscal and monetary stimulus, Beijing will be pushing exports with subsidies. The U.S. and Europe will need to monitor and counter this "dumping" to prevent China from stealing jobs and suppressing recovery elsewhere. Beijing sees international economics as a core part of the larger contest for world power. As Global Times has warned in regard to how the two rival powers respond to the crisis, “The country that moves faster will gain the initiative.”
The Chinese military has been busy demonstrating that the pandemic has not weakened either its strength or its determination to dominate the Pacific Rim. After the U.S. aircraft carriers Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan had to return to port to handle COVID-19 cases among their crews, China sent its carrier Liaoning with its escorts through the “first island chain” into the Pacific for the first time since last summer. The strike group passed though the Miyako Strait between Taiwan and Okinawa. This sent the message that while the U.S. comes and goes, this is China’s domain. The state-run People’s Daily gleefully ran the headline “Epidemic hinders U.S. military presence near China.”
To further make the point that China is on the move, it was announced on April 16 that two more “municipal districts” will be created to govern islands China has constructed in the South China Sea to establish its claim of sovereignty over this vital maritime region. They will be governed from Sansha, which Beijing claims is its southernmost city, but which is on Yongxing Island in the disputed Paracel Islands, a tiny place that has been enlarged with a major airstrip capable of operating the latest military aircraft.
China is also taking advantage of the worldwide drop in asset prices to buy up strategic stakes in high-tech, agriculture, and natural resource enterprises. While this is not an entirely new trend (China shifted from buying mainly bonds to buying control of productive assets a decade ago), the current crisis opens the door to aggressive acquisitions in accord with the ancient Chinese saying “loot the house when it is on fire.” Governments in Europe and Australia have taken steps to curb this financial assault and the U.S. needs to ramp up its often-lethargic vigilance.
The Democratic Party has its reasons for wanting to cripple the American economy too, also motivated by a lust for power. The most obvious motive is to undo President Trump’s achievement of taking the economy to record full employment and solid growth. They think extending lockdowns until the economy tumbles into a depression with tens of millions thrown out of work and businesses across the land bankrupted will so upset voters that they will want a change. But what kind of change? Who will they blame for a new misery index? A president urging a return to normalcy and a V-shaped recovery that restores prosperity, or the party that is keeping the population under “house arrest” for months until the shelves of the few stores allowed to be open are bare because nothing is being produced? Trump’s strategists should be able to tar the Democrats with the “rule or ruin” label, turning theoretical debates over policy into clear examples of liberal malevolence.
Many Democrats still think of FDR as a model president. A man who combined liberalism and patriotism, who fought against the Great Depression and won World War II. But party leaders have moved on. A major ideological component today is the Green movement, which has welcomed the epidemic as a way to teach Americans to do without and accept a lower standard of living. A shuttered economy doesn’t emit gases or use resources. While responsible national leadership wants America to weather the storm, the Greens see the storm as nature’s warning to slow down and retreat from affluence. One of the starkest statements by a Green radical appeared in The Times of London, “looking for the ultimate weapon against climate change, you could hardly design anything better than coronavirus. Unlike most other such diseases, it kills mostly the old who, let’s face it, are more likely to be climate sceptics.” A chilling example of left-wing thinking.
China has seized upon such divisive politics to claim the world is going its way. On April 18. Global Times ran a long column by a Chinese professor on “a dying U.S. democracy.” He cited all the usual defects from corruption to the mass media to “enforcement of coercive tactics for the people’s compliance.” The author then predicted “With the mishandling of COVID-19 and its dramatic consequences leading to a Wall Street meltdown, and one that will be more serious than the 2008 Financial Crisis, and the temporary closure of the US economy coupled with a sharp unemployment increase, at least an estimated 75 percent of the population would be dissatisfied with their democratic system during the pandemic and post-pandemic era.” The author’s suggestion? “[M]ixing capitalism with socialism institutionally as Northern Europe does and as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren suggested, seems to be a better alternative. China, on the other end of the political continuum, could be a good example of mixing socialism with the market economy for the US to learn.”
For obvious reasons, Beijing does not want President Trump re-elected, but the ideological support from the Communist Party for the Democratic Party’s leftward lurch runs deeper than one election. The good news is that the U.S. is still a democracy and American voters do not have to accept Beijing’s advice when they vote on how best to ensure their own country’s magnificent future.
William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor who has served on the staff of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee.