Two years ago, a pandemic emerged from China that has since killed more than 5 million people worldwide, cost trillions of dollars in lost economic output, shuttered schools and businesses, and ruined countless lives.
And what has the Chinese Communist Party paid for it? Absolutely nothing.
The Biden administration hasn’t held China’s leaders accountable for their actions, refuses to even state forthrightly and with force that the virus most likely originated in a government lab in Wuhan, and is even allowing Beijing to profit from its misdeeds. None of this ever would have happened under the Trump administration.
Last year, China’s global trade surplus surged to $676.4 billion — what economists believe is the highest ever for any country — as exports rose nearly 30%. Its surplus with the U.S. — one of the irritants behind former President Donald Trump’s tough-on-China policies — increased 25.1% in 2021 to $396.6 billion, as pandemic-struck Americans bought “Made in China” goods like home electronics and bicycles.
Before the full impact of the virus was known — and as China rushed to cover it up with the help of the World Health Organization — Mr. Trump signed a trade deal with Beijing in January 2020. In the agreement’s phase one, China pledged to buy an additional $200 billion worth of American goods and services by 2021.
Not surprisingly, China missed the mark — by a huge margin.
Based on trade data through November, Beijing was 62% short of its energy purchasing promises, 41% short on manufacturing purchases, and 17% short on agricultural imports, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
The phase two part of the deal was set to be negotiated this year and address issues like the Chinese government subsidizing its state-owned industries. When phase one was signed, Mr. Trump was keen to keep intact the $360 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese goods he implemented throughout his presidency and vowed additional punishment if China didn’t live up to its end of the bargain.
But now there’s a new U.S. president, one who refuses to get tough or even to formulate a clear China policy.
Although President Biden has maintained his predecessor’s tariffs on Chinese goods (so far), his administration has been reluctant to take any action to punish China not only for failing to meet its trade pledges but also for its mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak that unleashed the virus on the world.
Additional tariffs are not Mr. Biden’s only weapon. After the devastating effects of the pandemic were known, Mr. Trump coordinated a whole-of-government response in 2020 to hold China accountable for COVID-19. If he were still in office, you better believe China would be paying “reparations” through various distinct actions.
In 2020, the Trump administration levied sanctions on 90 Chinese entities or individuals, representing 11.5% of total U.S. sanctions designations that year.
According to a report by Axios, the Trump administration took at least 210 public actions from at least 10 departments related to China during his last year in office. They included 22 actions by the Justice Department, including indictments and arrests and 60 actions by the State Department, including visa and travel restrictions, as well as sanctions by the Treasury Department, export controls by the Commerce Department, import bans on products made by forced labor by the Department of Homeland Security and designating Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE as national security threats by the Federal Communications Commission.
Since taking office, what has Mr. Biden done to punish China and safeguard American interests? Nothing more than talk.
“We must defend to the hilt our economic interests,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington in October. “And that means taking all steps necessary to protect ourselves against the waves of damage inflicted over the years through unfair competition.”
According to Bloomberg, under the Biden administration, “the U.S. and its allies have committed to taking joint action against forced labor and to develop a framework that cuts off Beijing’s access to sensitive technologies, especially semiconductors produced in the U.S. and other nations. The ongoing talks on the export bans haven’t yet resulted in tangible action.”
All talk, no action.
The Trump administration made clear the U.S. could impose economic costs and retaliatory measures on China without the world coming to an end. During Mr. Trump’s term, China’s retaliation remained relatively limited.
Now, Beijing is threatening Taiwan, has militarized the South China Sea, has tightened control over Hong Kong, continues to commit genocide against the Uyghurs and has no discernible plan to rebalance trade with the U.S. Plus, it’s hosting the Winter Olympics!
None of this would have been tolerable for Mr. Trump, who fought tooth and nail on behalf of the American public.
But not Mr. Biden. He’s happy to maintain the do-nothing status quo, hoping Americans will forget about the utterly devastating consequences of the pandemic China unleashed on the world.
• Kelly Sadler is the commentary editor at The Washington Times.
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