Crises lay bare the strengths and weaknesses of societies — their flexibility and resilience and where they require reform and radical change to survive.
COVID-19 reveals the wisdom and shortcomings of President Trump’s foreign policy. China must be contained. However, America can’t do it alone, and the Western alliance has grown decadent to the challenge.
President Xi Jinping surely had motive, means and opportunity to strike a terrible blow on Western economies and legitimacy of political institutions by unleashing a pandemic.
The Chinese Communist Party views prosperous democracies as an existential threat to its one-party rule. By holding back what it knew when the virus first emerged, it enabled its spread to Italy, New York and the ultimate pandemic. The happy cooperation of World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and bad advice from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar certainly encouraged President Trump — and by derivation New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — to initially ignore the threat.
Whether a criminal act or civil negligence, China’s unrepentant behavior and cynical attempts to use money and materiel to extend its global influence lay in stark relief the mistake of normalizing relations with China during the Nixon era, enabling its participation in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the Clinton era and ever conceding a seat to Beijing at other conclaves of civilized nations.
Africans living in China are being characterized on social media as animals and rounded up for quarantine even when they show no signs of COVID-19. A porridge restaurant in Shenyang displayed a banner “Celebrating the epidemic in the United States and wishing coronavirus a nice trip to Japan.” Given Beijing tightly censors the Internet and public speech, its tolerance of rancid conduct can only be seen as an expression of the Chinese Community Party dogma and policy.
The Western Alliance threw Russia out of the G-8 for invading the Crimea. Certainly. America can refuse to sit down with China in the G-20 and cease to tolerate its continued participation in the WTO, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other venues reserved for decent men and women.
We can make clear to Europe and other allies if they value their freedom and our friendship they can no longer profit from business with Russia and China, do too little for the common defense, and expect the American Navy to guarantee their security.
Eleven nuclear aircraft carriers are not enough, and we can’t afford more.
Germany orchestrating common European security safeguards to permit Huawei to buildout continental 5G technology and its Nord Stream 2 pipeline would put money in Beijing’s and Moscow’s pockets. That helps finance their military modernization and efforts to corrupt Western elections.
America and Western Europe must recognize their own shortcomings and misconceptions. China and more autocratic leaning Eastern Europe were better able to contain the virus and economic damage with stricter measures.
We must accept that bluetooth cellphone apps, collecting anonymized data about personal contacts, would be far more efficient and no more an invasion of personal privacy than thousands of trackers now being assembled by New York and other jurisdictions to interrogate those testing positive and folks identified for having recent contact. The misuse of data can be avoided much as iPhone protects personal financial information in its card swipe technology.
Similar technologies can serve a lot of good by managing traffic and municipal transit systems, empowering law enforcement and generally reducing the hassles of urban life. We can do better with proper safeguards without giving over to fascist controls.
Efforts to revive our economies reveal the need to cultivate more personal self-restraint and financial decency. Hotel magnets and Harvard University reaching for SBA cash intended for mom-and-pop businesses smells the decay in civic values that should not merely be constrained by better legislation but by public shaming and cashiering morally rudderless CEOs and university presidents.
Apart from shunning President Xi, his hoodlums and the debased among us, the Trump administration must articulate a clear vision of a new multilateralism among Western allies and developing nations willing to shoulder the burdens of sustaining human rights and democracy.
Substantial reforms and cooperation that safeguard the integrity of the WHO, WTO, NATO and other economic and security institutions are needed to resolve Western squabbles better than bullying with unilateral tariffs, shotgun renegotiation of trade agreements and vainglorious boasting.
The administration has not offered such a vision, but only an alliance of the willing will have the resources to address the menace posed by the Chinese juggernaut.
• Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.
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