‘You never want a good crisis to go to waste.” That was Rahm Emanuel’s now-infamous prescription for the Democratic Party following the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Now, China’s applying that same dictum globally, as the Wuhan virus ravages nation after nation, freeing Beijing to do its mischief.
For years, Americans of all political stripes operated under the delusion that China, though nominally communist, was becoming more like the West every day. Our massive, but one-sided, trade with the country would bring changes, we thought. An inevitable consumer economy in China would expand, and bring with it ideas of freedom, human rights and democracy.
China would moderate its behavior, the argument went, perhaps eventually easing its military threats against Taiwan, and letting Hong Kong maintain its status as a free-trading city-state outside of Beijing’s direct control.
That was our folly and our delusion, as we’re now finding out.
To begin with, China’s lies at the very beginning of the pandemic show, at best, gross negligence and incompetence, and at worst, intent to murder. As retired Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters recently wrote for the Hoover Institution, “Beijing piled lies atop heaps of corpses.”
With the world still distracted by fears of the coronavirus pandemic’s deadly impact and much of the West’s economy shut down, China used the crisis to expand its power by bullying its neighbors, crushing all dissent in Hong Kong, and making not-so-subtle military threats against the U.S.
Over the past few weeks, China has systematically gone about stifling Hong Kong’s freedom movement and arresting its leaders, prompting U.S. Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo to declare on Wednesday the obvious: Hong Kong no longer is autonomous from China.
President Donald Trump is expected to speak Friday about the growing friction with China, which could mean revoking Hong Kong’s “special status” under U.S. law. Hong Kong has held a free trade and investment exemption since passage of the Hong Kong Policy Act in 1992.
“This is a pattern and the Chinese Communist Party will have to be held accountable for the things they have done to endanger the security of the American people,” Pompeo said.
Meanwhile, China is in saber-rattling mode. President Xi Jinping has just told the military to prepare for combat, an ominous sign that China is planning something big as the world deals with its coronavirus issues.
“The armed forces must improve operational capability in each and every aspect,” Xi told his military, just a week after boosting defense spending by 6.6%, despite the Chinese economy’s current steep decline.
Xi’s already giving his neighbors a taste of his new military assertiveness.
Little noticed in recent weeks, Chinese troops crossed a long-disputed border with India. It’s an act of downright provocation if not an actual invasion near the so-called Line of Actual Control, the disputed demarcation between the two countries.
The timing is highly suspicious. The two nations have skirmished and debated this line often over the years, from the early 1950s to today. But lately, things had quieted down. Now China is using its fast-rising military might to stake a bully’s claim to what it hasn’t won through diplomacy.
Will China use the world’s Wuhan virus distraction to invade Taiwan, now that it has broken its treaty to reclaim Hong Kong? Will it bolster its military presence in its illegally built “islands” in the South China Sea, intended to steal its smaller neighbors’ rights to the area? Will it provoke a weakened Kim Jong Un in North Korea to do something rash to provoke a crisis among U.S. allies South Korea and Japan?
These are all open questions. But we’ve had ample warning what was coming. We just ignored it.
Since 2018, when Xi Jinping maneuvered during the Communist Party’s conference to win virtually unbridled powers and also end term limits for his leadership, China has moved rapidly back down the road to totalitarian rule that it had partially abandoned after Mao Zedong’s death.
Even before 2018, it had embarked on one of the largest military buildups in modern history, which is saying a lot, boosting military spending by 15% a year and more during its boom years. The result: A blue-water navy, increasingly sophisticated military equipment, submarines, anti-ship missiles, a panoply of new weapons and well-trained personnel to use them.
We ignored all this because it was convenient. American companies were getting rich selling cheap Chinese-made goods here in the U.S., while investors made fat returns on their capital. Sure, it hollowed out our industrial heartland and killed millions of jobs, but our elites insisted that was a small price to pay to keep the globalism gravy train rolling.
And now China’s government is showing its true face to the world. It’s the face of totalitarian communism, a murderous, inhumane political creed that has failed everywhere it’s been tried.
Ongoing actions only confirm this.
In a commentary earlier this year, Heritage Foundation Distinguished Fellow Lee Edwards pondered the question, “Is the curve in Communist China pointed up to freedom and democracy or down to Marxism-Leninism and totalitarianism?”
His answer wasn’t comforting.
“Consider China’s aggressive attitude toward Hong Kong and its activity in the South China Sea, its efforts to bully the island democracy of Taiwan into accepting it is a province of China, the onerous conditions attached to its large loans to cash-hungry nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America, its blatant theft of the intellectual property of U.S. companies doing business in China,” Edwards wrote.
Like it or not, and many of America’s elite don’t, the U.S. has entered a cold war with Beijing. The next moves will be crucial, since China will try to use its financial clout and growing presence around the world to pry America’s allies away, one by one. The U.S. must prepare for a long, perilous chess match against a foe that sees it all as a zero-sum game.
The Chinese people, so hopeful for a brighter future and a growing economy, deserve better than this awful regime. The U.S. won the Cold War with the now-defunct USSR by its steadfast opposition to communism while building the world’s most powerful economy. That sounds like a good plan for this cold war, too.
— Written by the I&I Editorial Board.