Gordon Chang On China: What We Must Do, & What We Must Not Do
Gordon Chang On China: What We Must Do, & What We Must Not Do
Wed, 06/03/2020 – 00:05
China has attacked America with coronavirus. At this moment, more than 100,000 Americans have been killed. We brace ourselves for the deaths to come.
Today, I’ll do two things. First, I’ll talk about the nature of that attack. The second thing, what we must do to protect ourselves.
First of all, China is not, as many people will tell you, just a competitor. It is an enemy. China is trying to overthrow the international system, and in that process, it is trying to make you subject to modern-day Chinese emperors.
I know this sounds as if it cannot be true, but we must listen to what Chinese leaders say. When we do that, we realize that to defend the American republic and defend our way of life, we are going to have to decouple from China.
On May 6, President Donald J. Trump said that China’s attack was worse than Pearl Harbor, worse than the World Trade Center. “There’s never been an attack like this,” he said, and he is right.
Most critically, Chinese leaders publicly admitted that the novel coronavirus, the pathogen causing COVID-19, could be transmitted from one human to another on January 20.
Yet doctors in Wuhan, the epicenter, were noticing the contagiousness of this virus no later than the second week in December. Beijing knew a few days after that. If Chinese leaders had said nothing during that five‑week period, that would have been grossly irresponsible.
What they tried to do, however, was deceive the world into believing that this was not transmissible human-to-human. As a result of that campaign, the World Health Organization (WHO) propagated China’s false narrative, especially with that infamous January 14 tweet:
“Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China.”
At the same time, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China since 2012, pressured countries not to impose travel restrictions or quarantines on arrivals from China. Again, WHO helped China, this time with its January 10 statement opposing these restrictions.
What happened was arrivals from China — when Chinese officials knew this virus was human-to human-transmissible — turned what should have been an epidemic contained to China into a global pandemic.
I don’t know what Xi Jinping, the Chinese ruler, was thinking, but if after having seen what the coronavirus did to cripple China, he decided to cripple other societies to get even, he would have done exactly what in fact he did do.
That means there is only one inescapable conclusion. This conclusion is that China maliciously spread this virus around the world, sickening people, killing others.
This is the first time in history that one nation has attacked all the others.
That is not all. After admitting the human-to-human contagiousness of this disease, Beijing then downplayed it.
On January 21, the day after formally admitting the disease’s human-to-human transmissibility, Beijing got its propaganda machine in full gear to tell the world that this was less dangerous than SARS.
SARS is the 2002‑2003 epidemic that according to the World Health Organization infected 8,096 people across the world, killing 744. By then, on January 21, Chinese officials knew it was much worse than SARS.
According to Der Spiegel, Germany’s intelligence agency, the BND, believes that on January 21 ‑‑ this is the day after China formally admitted human‑to‑human transmissibility of the disease ‑‑ Xi Jinping spoke to Dr. Tedros, the director-general of WHO, and tried to get the organization to hold back information on human‑to‑human transmissibility, as well as to delay declaring a pandemic.
Now, WHO denies that this phone conversation between Xi and Tedros took place, but it fits known facts. It also fits what the US intelligence community has been saying, according to various reports.
China’s actions had consequences. Beijing lulled public health officials around the world, including those in the United States, into not taking actions that they otherwise would have adopted.
Democrats and Chinese communists have criticized President Trump for acting too slowly after he imposed the travel restrictions on China on January 31. If that is true, it is only because people on his coronavirus task force were actually listening to what Beijing was saying and making judgments on what they had heard.
For instance, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, in her March 31 press briefing said she had seen the data from China and decided that this was no more dangerous than SARS, but realized, after the infections ripped through both Italy and Spain, that she had been deceived by the Chinese. She is not the only one. Dr. Anthony Fauci has also talked in public about how the Chinese misled him.
We must impose costs on China. We must impose costs because, first of all, what China did was a crime against all of humanity. We must also impose costs because we need to deter China. This is not going to be the last pathogen generated on Chinese soil. We got to make sure the Chinese leaders do not believe that they can maliciously spread another disease.
This means there is going to be friction between China and the United States as we Americans take steps to protect ourselves in the future. Those steps are going to cause arrogant and belligerent Chinese to move against us.
We should take a look about how the arrogant and belligerent Chinese indeed view the international system, how they view the world order. You will hear many analysts say that the friction between the United States and China is just another one of these boys-will-be-boys contests in history.
The notion is that the United States is jealously protecting its position in the international system fits in with Beijing’s narrative that their rise is inevitable and that we are in terminal decline.
The truth is that the United States is defending more than just its position in the international system. We are defending the international system itself, the system of treaties, conventions, rules, and norms.
Unfortunately, Xi Jinping, the Chinese ruler, does not believe in that system. He is trying to impose China’s imperial‑era notions of the world. In other words, he believes that everyone around the world must acknowledge Chinese rule.
In short, Chinese rulers believed that they had the mandate of heaven over tianxia, meaning “all under heaven.” Xi Jinping has used tianxia‑like language for more than a decade. Recently, his pronouncements have become unmistakable.
For instance, in his 2017 New Year’s message he said, and I quote, “The Chinese have always held that the world is united and all under heaven” — all under heaven — “are one family.”
If this were not enough, his foreign minister, Wang Yi, in September of 2017 wrote an article in Study Times, the Central Party School’s influential newspaper. Wang Yi wrote that “Xi Jinping thought” ‑‑ “thought” in Communist Party lingo is an important body of ideological work — “made innovations on and transcended the traditional Western theories of international relations for the past 300 years.”
If you take 2017 and subtract 300 years, you almost get to 1648. Wang, with his time reference of 300 years, was almost certainly pointing to the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, which established the current international system. That system recognizes the sovereignty of different states.
Also, when Wang Yi used the word “transcended,” he was saying that Xi Jinping does not believe that there should be sovereign states, or at least no more sovereign states than China itself. The trend of Xi Jinping’s recent comments is that he doesn’t want to live within the international system. He does not even want to adjust it. He wants to overthrow it altogether.
This means China once again is a revolutionary state. Now, Xi Jinping, of course, has not had the power to compel others to accept this audacious vision of worldwide Chinese rule.
Nonetheless, in the last few months, he has seen an historic opportunity because the United States has been stricken by the disease that China itself has pushed out beyond its borders.
What must we do? First, let us talk about what we must not do.
We must not save Chinese communism again. In the past, American presidents, when China had been stressed, have ridden to the rescue of the Chinese state. In 1972, for instance, Richard Nixon went to a Beijing that had been weakened by more than a half decade of the Cultural Revolution, signaling America’s support for China’s communism. That is how people in China took that visit.
The second time, 1989, George H. W. Bush sent Brent Scowcroft, his secret emissary, to Deng Xiaoping in the wake of the Tiananmen massacre. Again, America was telling the Chinese, “Don’t worry about American sanctions, don’t worry about what we say in public, we have your back.”
The third time, 1999, President William Jefferson Clinton signed a trade deal with China – at a time when the Chinese economy, in reality, was contracting. Certainly, China was suffering geopolitical setbacks. That deal was the basis of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization.
Despite all these saves of Chinese communism, China’s communist leaders have remained hostile. We have seen this hostility, especially since the first week of February of this year when the Global Times, which is a Communist Party newspaper, and the Chinese foreign ministry have engaged in an inflammatory disinformation campaign against the United States in an attempt to tar the US with all sorts of disease‑related sins.
This campaign culminated, reached a high point — although this campaign is still continuing today — on March 12th when the foreign ministry went on a Twitter storm. As a part of that Twitter storm, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that coronavirus patient zero was in the United States.
In other words, the disease started here. He also suggested that the US Army carried the disease to Wuhan. We were seeing daily stories about how the United States had been spreading the disease around the world.
Now, Americans, of course, were taken by surprise by this Twitter storm, but we really should not be — because on May 13 of last year Beijing declared a “people’s war” on the United States. This means the contest with China is existential. There is going to be one survivor. It is going to be either the Peoples’ Republic of China or the United States of America, not both.
We have just heard about what we should not be doing. We should not be rescuing Chinese communism.
What should we do? In my call for action, there are eight items.
First, we need to cut off trade with China. Now, I know a lot of people think we should not do this, or this would be unfortunate.
Yes, this is unfortunate, but the point is that China’s communism cannot be reformed, so the only way we can protect American society and Americans is to reduce our exposure to China and our great exposure, of course, is trade. In any event, we should not be enriching a hostile state with the proceeds of commerce with the United States.
This means, of course, that we need to get our factories off Chinese soil, but especially our pharmaceutical factories. China has been threatening to throw the United States into what it calls “a mighty sea of coronavirus,” and it has not been kidding.
For instance, we know the Chinese have turned around at least one ship carrying personal protective equipment — masks, gowns, gloves — that were on their way to New York hospitals. Moreover, Peter Navarro has said China has even nationalized one American factory in China producing those N‑95 masks.
China’s leadership always talks about how it is not possible for the US and China to “decouple.” Now, it is possible. Our job is to make it inevitable.
Second thing that we need to do: The administration is well on the way to making sure federal pension money is not invested in China’s markets. We also need to make sure that state pension money, and money from individuals, is not put into China’s markets. We should not be enriching China with our investments into its equity markets.
Third thing, we need to make China pay. Now, many people have sued the Chinese central government. There are class‑action suits in the federal district courts in Florida, Texas, and Nevada. Of course, the Chinese Central Government has sovereign immunity, but there are a number of bills in Congress, including one sponsored by Senator Blackburn and Representative Lance Gooden.
There is also another bill sponsored by Tom Cotton and Dan Crenshaw, and these would strip China of sovereign immunity. I believe Josh Hawley, the Senator from Missouri, also has a bill.
The State of Missouri, by the way, has sued the Communist Party of China, which is far more important and far richer than the Chinese central government. Guess what? China’s Communist Party does not have sovereign immunity.
People have also been talking about seizing China’s holdings of US Treasury obligations. According to official records, it holds more than a trillion dollars. In reality, it is probably a bit higher than that because China holds US Treasuries through nominees.
Of course, China would engage in a vociferous propaganda campaign if we did that. Beijing would say we are repudiating our debt. They would also say we are not responsible members and stewards of the global financial system. They would be wrong, they would be incorrect, but the US might suffer reputational damage.
That is why I think we should seize Treasuries, but we should be doing this in connection with the holders and issuers of other major currencies. For instance, the Canadian dollar, the British pound, the European Union’s euro, the Swiss franc, the Japanese yen, maybe the Singapore dollar
When we act with others, this becomes not a China-versus-US issue but an issue of China versus the world. No one country is going to suffer reputational damage.
Of course, Beijing could nationalize American factories in China, but I’m not so sure they’re going to do that because China would be hurt far more than we would by that.
Remember that China’s economy is still in a contraction phase and it is still export‑dominated, which means it needs those factories on its soil.
Fourth, with the possibility of the coronavirus escaping from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, we are now thinking about whether China has a biological weapons program in contravention of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.
Right now, we have seen all sorts of circumstantial evidence suggesting lab leak, and we have seen all sorts of circumstantial evidence that the Chinese military has been involved in the cleanup.
The Biological Weapons Convention does not have an inspections regime.
The item on my action list is that the United States should insist on inspections of China’s labs, and if we cannot get inspections we should withdraw from the Convention. I am not saying that the novel coronavirus was a biological weapon. We really do not know.
The one thing we do know is that in China’s labs, they have been engineering coronaviruses in the past. They have issued scientific papers on this, and what they are doing is extremely risky.
Fifth, we should make sure that China does not mess in our elections. China was extremely active in the 2018 midterms. They were concerned about President Trump’s tariffs, and they actually did have an effect in electing Democrats to the House of Representatives.
We know they are going to do that, or something like that, this time. The New York Times a few weeks ago said they are trying to sow chaos in the American public square by disseminating false rumors.
Sixth, we need to stop China from using its nationals to systematically gather information on our soil. Unfortunately, we have had a series of American presidents who have, for various reasons, either done nothing about China’s intelligence operations here, or the actions they took were deliberately ineffective.
We know that China’s diplomats operate on our soil, sometimes spying, other times in a manner inconsistent with the diplomatic status they have. Also, China’s Ministry of State Security agents operate here, freely.
We need to “rip and replace” all the equipment in our telecom backbone that has been supplied by Huawei Technologies, China’s telecom equipment manufacturer. China has been using that company’s equipment to spy on others. We should have no Huawei equipment in our backbone.
Also, we should be turfing out even more Chinese journalists. Those “journalists,” we know, work for China’s intelligence services. We have allowed them to stay on our soil for far too long. Secretary of State Pompeo has expelled many of them, and we need to complete the job.
We have to remember that China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law requires every Chinese citizen and every Chinese entity to spy if demanded, which means that Chinese nationals on our soil can be under a compulsion to engage in intelligence collection.
Seventh, let’s remove China from our cable networks and our newsstands. We should not be allowing China to exploit the openness of our system to try to end it.
Eighth, and the last, we have to deter China, which right now is engaging in what people in Beijing call “wolf warrior” diplomacy. For instance, we see Xi Jinping, with these threats to invade Taiwan.
Since the middle of February, there have been these boat-bumping and other provocative engagements in the South China and East China Seas against almost all of China’s sea neighbors. A Chinese diplomat laid the groundwork for taking over Kazakhstan, in Central Asia, and also China has moved to end the autonomy in Hong Kong.
China is lashing out, challenging everybody at the same time. This is a Maoist tactic, and it suggests problems inside the Chinese political system. In any event, we know that this is an incredibly dangerous moment for everyone.
One final note. Pushed by China, the Trump Administration is moving to an historic rupture with the People’s Republic of China. Because of this, we are seeing changes in the five‑decade‑old engagement policy.
Those changes are absolutely essential for us because, without them, we cannot be self‑reliant.
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Q: As an attorney, do you feel there is any way to hold China accountable, liable for financial compensation to devastated nations ravaged by their actions?
If so, as a practical matter, exactly how? Are there US companies that were collaborating with Wuhan labs via research responsible for this corona strain?
Chang: Great. I should say I haven’t practiced law for two decades, and I’ve given up my bar memberships. I’m more than happy to answer that question, however. First of all, as I mentioned, China does have sovereign immunity.
Now, a lot of people will tell you, and this is not an unreasonable argument, that sovereign immunity benefits the US more than any other nation. I do believe the fight with China is existential. To me, it’s important that we make China pay.
As I said, we can avoid this sovereign immunity issue ‑‑ and which would have some blowback for the US ‑‑ if the plaintiffs sue the Communist Party. Because the Communist Party is not sovereign.
In China, there’s a clear distinction between the party and the state. The state has sovereign immunity like other countries and other states have, but the party does not. We can go after the party.
By the way, the party actually has more control over China’s enterprises, which means it should be considered to be the owner of those enterprises. So, it has assets to seize.
We talk about China’s military. Actually, it is not a state army. It is an army of the Communist Party, which means that if we can find a Chinese plane, or a ship, or whatever, that would be subject to a successful suit in US Court because there’s no sovereign immunity and it’s a party army.
Having said all that, I think where we are going to seize assets will be the Treasuries. We should be working, as mentioned, with our allies and friends so that all countries in the world seize China’s assets. That, I think, will work.
Q. Are there US companies that were collaborating with Wuhan labs via research responsible for this corona strain?
Chang: I don’t think so. The Wuhan Institute of Virology was built with French companies, not American, as far as I know. Of course, the issue here is not corporate support but is US government support.
The US has chipped in, most famously, $3.7 million to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for research on bats. Many people think that the novel coronavirus is derived from a bat. I think part of the reason for the contribution is that the United States thought that experimenting on bat viruses was really too risky to be done in the US, so it decided to let the Chinese do it.
That is crazy. If it is too dangerous for us to do it, it’s too dangerous for the Chinese to do it, especially because we know that in China’s labs ‑‑ although the Wuhan Institute of Virology has a P4 biosafety lab, that is the highest level of safety standards ‑‑ we know that the Chinese do not adhere to those standards.
In 2018, State Department teams that visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology came away appalled — actually I should say alarmed — because they saw that Chinese technicians were not adhering to safety standards and protocols.
Also, we had those China Daily pictures. China Daily is an official state media publication. They tried to convince the world how safe the Wuhan Institute was so they posted these pictures, and those pictures actually documented broken or bent seals on refrigerators, a real safety problem.
We know that that lab was a walking disaster and something was going to happen. Unfortunately, it looks as if it did. Probably the coronavirus was an accidental lab release.
Q: How would you advise key US allies?
Chang: I advise every country to cut their trade relations with China because of the danger China poses.
The general view I have is that the world just needs to cut relations with China. If it were possible to reform Chinese communism, maybe that would be a worthwhile experiment, but we Americans have tried that for almost a half‑century and it has not worked.
As a matter of fact, our engagement of China has produced the opposite of what we wanted. We now have a richer and stronger China, more belligerent, more provocative, more aggressive, and much more dangerous. We have got to reverse what was clearly then, and is certainly clearly now, a misguided policy.
Q: What can we do now to try and protect us from more of these viral attacks?
Chang: The less trade and travel we have with China, then the better we are going to be. If there is no Chinese traveler, there would be no global pandemic. There would be no infections outside China. What we are going to have to do is to severely restrict travel from China.
We have to do this at least until we get our hands around this issue. Clearly, we have not been able to manage this. We have this notion, and everybody accepts it, at least implicitly, about globalization, comparative advantage, all of these things that have underpinned our modern world.
Unfortunately, China does not believe in comparative advantage, it does not believe in being a responsible member of the international community. Unfortunately, the only thing we can do is what many people think is unthinkable, and that is to cut our ties with China.
We cut our ties until we feel comfortable dealing with China, which in my mind means that the Communist Party no longer rules, that the Chinese people govern themselves, and then we can get along with them. I believe the Chinese people eventually will get this right.
At least at the moment, until they get it right, we have an obligation to our own citizens to cut those links. Because without those links, we are not going to have the next disease. Remember, China produces, especially in southern China, a lot of disease. Most of the world’s diseases do come from southern China.
This is not some academic question. Unfortunately, the remedy is severe, but I do not know how else we do this because you just cannot cooperate with China. You have got to cut your links.
Q: What might be possible in the way of the US government exposing details on high‑ranking members of the CCP’s overseas bank accounts, family dealings, and for instance, how Xi, on a government salary, paid for his daughter’s attendance at Harvard.
The press has covered some of these things, but that is different from official confirmation and surely greater access to such things as bank records.
Chang: I think we should just publicize it, and seize the assets of Chinese leaders in the United States. We have the Global Magnitsky Act.
These guys, even before the coronavirus episode, were engaging in a crime against humanity with the detention of somewhere between 1.3 and 3 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other peoples of Turkic backgrounds in what China calls Xinjiang, the northwestern part of China.
We know that people were dying in those camps because China has been building crematoria. We know that this is an attempt to eliminate a religion, to eliminate ethnic identity. This is very close to genocide. If it is not genocide, it is as bad as what the Third Reich did before the mass extermination of what, 1941?
That alone should give us justification for applying the Global Magnitsky Act and just seizing all their assets in this country. As I mentioned, I believe this was a deliberate spread of the coronavirus. More than 100,000 Americans have died. We have the right to do everything we can within our power to protect ourselves and to punish wrongdoers.
We may not be able to bring Xi Jinping to The Hague. We may not be able to put him in that prison we have in Florence, Colorado, otherwise known as the Supermax. We may not be able to put him in Guantanamo, but we sure can seize his assets.
Q: Please discuss what we need to do to regain the technology commanding heights, national industrial plan, whole of government, whole of economy, society, Sputnik‑like program.
Chang: It is a whole-of-society approach. You go back maybe 10 years, China was not considered to be a tech competitor. Right now, it is ahead in crucial technologies such as, for instance, 5G, the fifth generation of wireless communications, and in quantum communications it has at least a half‑decade lead on us.
This is really stunning because this whole theoretical notion of quantum communications was developed by an American, Albert Einstein. For us, this is just Americans not paying attention.
It is also, of course, China’s stealing. China steals somewhere between $150 to $600 billion of US intellectual property each year, and now, the FBI is warning that it is trying to steal vaccines and medical‑related information.
What China has been able to do, and it is more than just that, it has had determined programs to develop technology. For instance, China has its 13th Five‑Year Plan, which is just about finished. It has the Made in China 2025 Initiative, where medicines and medical equipment comprise one of the 10 sectors that China wants to dominate by the year 2025.
These are, for China, a whole-of-society approach toward developing technology. We really need to do the same thing, and we can do it. President John F. Kennedy went to Rice University and said, “We are going to go to the moon.” That was a time when the Soviets were well ahead of us.
Through federal programs, through cooperation with business, just through everything, we were able to put the first man on the moon. By the way, no other country has left earth orbit, but the Chinese probably are ahead of us in the race to get back to the moon.
For us, I think what we are going to have to adopt the whole-of-society approach. The one thing that we should focus on is our universities. We have Chinese students and others taking in ways which are sometimes violative of federal law, sometimes just inconsistent with their status on campus.
They have been stealing, downloading entire databases, doing all the rest of this. We need to stop that. I know Chinese students, Chinese professors play a large role in our campuses, but they have also been taking US technology. We need to end that.
For me, it means a renewed approach. One of the ways we can stop this is, we have allowed Chinese diplomats and Ministry of State Security agents to surveil Chinese students on campus. That means Chinese students feel really under a compulsion to do what Beijing wants.
We are Americans. This is our country. We can get those diplomats out of those campuses, get the Chinese agents off our soil. That is up to us. To me, this is important of course. I’m here because my dad came here as a student in 1945, just before the end of the war.
I think we have got a long way to go, to solving what I think is actually the most complex issue we face: what do you do with Chinese students on American campuses? There are no easy solutions, but we need to address this in a much more rigorous way than we have been. We must do all of those things, that means we have a whole-of-society approach.
Q: Pharmaceuticals, how can we best replace the Chinese market? And rare earth strategic elements. Does the US have adequate resources to produce our own? How can we best disconnect from the dependence on the Chinese market?
Chang: On rare earths, we have rare earths in our country and our allies’ — most notably, Canada and Australia — have a lot of rare earths. What we do not have is the refining capacity. Stuff mined in countries other than China is actually shipped to China to be refined.
That has occurred because we do not want to suffer the environmental damage caused by refining rare earths, which in the past has really been awful. New technologies, and those that are coming on-stream now, mitigate much of the environmental impact. I think we need to start refining rare earths in North America.
If not here, then in Canada, which has huge deposits of many of the rare earths. It is a political decision for us to make, that we decide not to be dependent on China.
With regard to pharmaceuticals, Peter Navarro, President Trump’s trade adviser, has been talking for weeks about an executive order that would require the federal government to not buy pharmaceuticals from China. That EO has yet to be signed.
I think there is intense fighting at the top of the administration: trade groups and pharmaceutical companies have been fighting that executive order. This is something the President needs to do. It is in his power.
He can wake up one morning and say to the pharmaceutical companies, “I don’t care what you think. This is a national security issue.” You remember that on July 21, 2017, President Trump signed that executive order on supply chain robustness.
We know on March 24 of this year he talked about what is now called his American independence agenda, which is Americans making things for Americans.
Remember, he has the power under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 to do a lot of stuff, including getting pharmaceutical companies out of China. It’s up to him. We should be, I hope, putting pressure on the White House to do what should be done because he is getting a lot of pressure on the other side. President Trump can do this.
Now, one other note. I do not do domestic politics, but I have noticed that there is an election this year. That is probably going to slow down the reaction of the president to many of the initiatives I think should be taken, but nonetheless, this is a really critical one. We cannot allow China to make our pharmaceuticals.
We should not be relying on any single country to the extent that we are relying on China, but certainly not a hostile regime that threatens to cut off products. Again, this is a question of American political will.
Q: How do we get other countries to join us in this effort? They are already getting blackmailed by China. If they criticize China, it punishes them over trade. Australia dared to join 100 countries asking for an investigation into coronavirus origin.
China responded by imposing 80% tariffs on Australian agricultural imports. How can we help other countries to stand up to China?
Chang: At the World Health Assembly, which just concluded, the resolution for an independent investigation of the origins of the coronavirus actually was sponsored by 144 countries. It passed without objection.
This is an investigation which China does not want, although China eventually saw the handwriting on the wall and decided not to oppose it. I think we get to this is a couple of ways. One of them is, the intelligence community, our intelligence community, has a lot of information which is going to throw a light on what China actually did, in terms of spreading the coronavirus.
I know that the intelligence community does not like disclosing a lot of this stuff because it compromises sources and methods. Every once in a while, you get an intelligence issue which is so critical to the future of our country.
I think that this is one of those where disclosure of information really is important. Once countries know what China did in terms of deliberately spreading this coronavirus, I think it is over for China.
With regard to Australia, because Australia was the second country to propose this investigation after we did, China has decided to punish Australia more than any other country, especially with those tariffs on barley.
This is one of those cases where we Americans should start buying Australian barley. We have got to show Beijing that we can out-muscle them. Remember, China looks fearsome because it has had economic growth.
China right now is in a contraction phase, and it has also got one other huge problem, and that is a lot of its Belt and Road loans to other countries are coming due this year. These countries cannot pay China back, which means China’s debt‑trap diplomacy is trapping not just the debtors, but it’s trapping China itself.
What we should be doing is making sure these countries do not pay back, because this is one way to starve the beast. There are many different ways to do it, cutting off trade, cutting off investments.
Those are things we can do, and we can be working with our allies, our friends, and countries that normally are not our friends. They now have an interest in opposing China, so we should be working with them.
Q: To what extent do you consider Xi’s position as head of the CCP to be precarious? Might concerns about his own vulnerability have anything to do with his renewed aggressiveness?
Chang: That’s the question I wish I knew the answer to. There are a number of things that can be said. Of course, China’s political system is not transparent. Especially at moments like this, it can be very opaque. I think this is one of those do-or-die moments for Xi Jinping. I mean that literally.
You have got to remember, Xi has changed the nature of the Chinese political system. Under Hu Jintao, his predecessor, it was collective, which means a Chinese leader really did not get blamed for things that went wrong.
Also, he did not get that much credit: all decisions were essentially made by consensus, especially at the Politburo Standing Committee, but even in the wider Politburo. The Chinese leader did not worry too much about things going bad.
Xi Jinping, of course, has taken that consensus system that he inherited at the end of 2012, and he has made it more or less into a one‑person system where he is the one person. Which means, of course, he has the greater accountability that goes along with that great power.
Xi Jinping, even before the coronavirus, was having a pretty bad year, in 2019, because he had a stumbling economy. He had problems in Hong Kong. He had some pretty unhappy people in China.
What Xi has done is run roughshod over everybody. As long as he can do that, he is safe. You have got to remember, though: people have not forgotten what Xi Jinping has done to them in terms of taking away their power, putting their family members in jail, all the rest of this.
They are sort of waiting on the sidelines for an opportunity to strike back. When Xi Jinping stumbles, they will strike back. This is a particularly important time for Xi because what he is trying to do is intimidate the world with this “wolf warrior” diplomacy.
If he succeeds, he is golden. If he does not succeed, if the world starts to contain China, starts to reduce relations with Beijing, all the rest of it, he is gone. By gone, I mean, he not only loses his position, he also loses perhaps his freedom, his assets, and maybe even his life.
He has taken what was a consensus-driven system and made it like the Maoist political system of the first years of the People’s Republic. When people lost political struggles, they not only lost power, they sometimes were executed.
Xi Jinping knows what is at stake right now. There are rumors ‑‑ I don’t know how much weight to give them ‑‑ that he is not going to get a third term as general secretary at the next Communist Party Congress in 2022. I tend to believe them, but I think that has not yet been determined.
What is interesting is that people in Beijing are talking about that. Which means that it probably is an option for the party to ditch Xi Jinping at the next opportunity. We shall see.
Q: Can we analyze some of the pharmaceuticals or even vitamins that come in that possibly show pathogens because of their poor oversight and loose regulations?
Chang: The answer is yes. We have had in the past medicines coming from China that have been adulterated. For instance, in the middle of this decade, maybe even earlier, Heparin, the blood thinner, was adulterated.
I do not think China would intentionally try to adulterate their vaccines and stuff. Nonetheless, they have had these fake vaccines scandals periodically in China. One not too long ago. We have got to be very concerned.
China can actually get to a vaccine before anybody else does if for no other reason that they are willing to cut corners. It is important for us to make sure that whatever China comes up with is not only effective but also safe.
Xi Jinping at the World Health Assembly address that he gave a couple of days ago, said he was going to share the vaccine with the world. I am happy if that is the case, but we have to be concerned that what they come up with is probably going to be ineffective or dangerous.
The Chinese are not going to test. They are not going to adhere to the same safety protocols that the rest of the world will. We need to be really concerned about what comes out of China in terms of a vaccine.
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