Last Thursday, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley launched a petition encouraging Congress to investigate both the Chinese government’s knowledge of and its response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Haley’s call to put pressure on China echos President Donald Trump, who has continuously blamed China for the outbreak of the “Chinese Virus.” Though Trump’s rhetoric is misguided and completely unnecessary, he and Haley are correct in identifying the need to put diplomatic pressure on China.
Let me begin by saying that China’s lack of transparency in announcing this pandemic to the world is not the sole cause of its prominence in the United States. Hindsight tells us that the Trump Administration’s decision to disband the National Security Council’s pandemic response team was a blunder. And members of both political parties have embraced ambitious stimulus packages, the stability of which lie in question.
However, as Haley has stated, there seems to be increasing evidence that the Chinese government covered up the severity of the outbreak. China waited until Dec. 31, 2019 to report the existence of COVID-19 to the World Health Organization, despite the fact that Wuhan’s first cases were identified in November.
Also quite mysteriously, COVID-19 whistleblower Li Wenliang, a Wuhan Central Hospital physician who warned his colleagues of a “Sars-like virus” last December, was told to “stop making false comments” by police and investigated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for “spreading rumors.” Officially, Dr. Li died of the virus on Feb. 7 after contracting it at work; however, the circumstances surrounding Li’s death have led many to suggest that he was murdered by the Chinese authorities during their quest of COVID-19 denial
Regardless of whether or not Li’s death is in fact part of a conspiracy, his country’s disregard for transparency has unleashed a tidal wave upon the world economy. In the U.S., such consequences need no introduction. Widespread unemployment has led to financial insecurity for millions of families. And the pandemic has hit investors hard, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted over 10,000 points between mid-February and March 23.
But what good is scapegoating the Chinese if the U.S. squanders a diplomatic opportunity to stand against the CCP? The Trump Administration has certainly not been shy in taking a tough stance against China on trade, and Trump’s initially criticized decision to suspend travel between the two countries seems much more reasonable today. With Trump at the helm of America’s political arena, there has never been a better time to make a bold move.
The first sensible measure the U.S. can take is to increase its support for democratic protests in Hong Kong. Mainland China’s controversial extradition bill sent the special administrative region into a frenzy last spring, and the organized marches against it brought thousands of Hong Kongers to the streets to directly challenge Beijing’s overreach. Of course, this pandemic has halted the protests and pushed Hong Kong off the U.S. radar, but once it ends, letting these protests play out passively constitutes a failure to stand up for American interests abroad.
On another note, Haley called upon Chinese U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun last week to get answers surrounding what the CCP knew about COVID-19 before it grew into a pandemic. This diplomatic option is worth considering; however, President Trump has a golden opportunity to take things a step further by stealing a page from the Richard Nixon playbook.
In 1972, Nixon became the first sitting U.S. president to visit China, and thus became the first to recognize the CCP as China’s legitimate form of government. Nixon’s aggressive move put the Soviet Union, no longer seen as the “only” communist power, on its heels; the subsequent years actually improved relations between the U.S. and the Soviets.
Today, Trump can pull a Nixon by recognizing Taiwan as an independent country to gain leverage against China. For all intents and purposes, Taiwan operates independently of mainland China, though it is officially designated as the “Republic of China.” The island state has developed an advanced economy and a strong record of promoting American interests; the same cannot be said for the CCP.
Perhaps more than any other outbreak in history, the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to reshape the geopolitical world in the years following its conclusion. One can only hope that the U.S. and its allies learn from China’s actions and hold it accountable for its role in wreaking havoc on the world.
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Carson Swick is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.