Should we scapegoat China for the pandemic?

The Trump administration blames China for the coronavirus pandemic.  Administration sources say that if Xi Jinping had acted a week sooner than he did, some 95 percent of the infections in China could have been avoided.

Some go on to suggest that the Chinese government may lying about the pandemic.  They say it may have originated in a bio-lab and not in unsanitary live-animal meat markets as is generally believed.  And they say that Xi Jinping is lying about China’s success in bringing the pandemic under control.

Xi Jinping

I think there’s something to the first claim, but it’s a case of a pot calling a kettle black.  The world would have been better off if Donald Trump had acted six weeks sooner than he did.   People who live in a glass house throwing stones.

And while it’s possible that the Chinese government is lying, the U.S. government does’t have a good record for truth-telling.  Recall the claims that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction, that the Syrian government used sarin gas against its people and that Iran was developing nuclear weapons.

I’m reminded of a comment made by the late Richard Feynman when somebody asked him whether it was possible that UFOs are piloted by extraterrestrials.  He replied that he wasn’t interested in what was possible, but in what was so.

Lots of things are possible, but claims require evidence—or at least the considered opinion of some qualified expert who doesn’t have a conflict of interest.

The states of Missouri and Mississippi are suing China in U.S. courts.  Presumably the lawsuit won’t get anywhere because of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which bars lawsuits against foreign countries.

There’s a good reason for such a law.  If the Americans could sue foreign countries in U.S. courts and get damages, presumably by seizing foreign assets in the United States, then foreigners could sue the USA in their own courts and seize American assets.

My first thought in writing this post was that ramping up the cold war with China was a terrible idea because the U.S. depends on China for 80 percent of essential drugs.

However, a Google search turned up an article in Reason magazine that show this dependence is greatly exaggerated.  Nobody knows for sure, but the likely figure is closer ti 13 percent from China.

It is true that we Americans are overly dependent on foreign countries overall for medical supplies and much else.  We should do what we can to reduce that dependence, but that will be a project that will take years—assuming we can do it at all.  Meanwhile we can’t afford any break in these fragile global supply chains.

The other problem with scapegoating China is that it is a distraction from American failure.  For example, many countries screen travelers arriving at their airports from foreign countries.  If the traveler has a temperature, he or she is placed in quarantine for 14 days.  But travelers arriving at the New York City airports are allowed to go their way without checking.

It’s not a good sign when governments put excuses for failure in place while the crisis is still ongoing.  It means nothing will be learned from experience.

Afterthoughts [added later]

I do not admire China’s semi-totalitarian form of government.  I recognize that China is the chief rival of the United States, economically and diplomatically.  I know that Chinese are claiming COVID-19 originated in a U.S. biowarfare laboratory.

There are many valid reasons to criticize the Chinese government.  However, I do not regard being critical of the Chinese government as a litmus test of patriotism.  Criticize the Chinese government for what they actually do.  Don’t make things up.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with China that can be fixed by denunciations and threats.  I don’t think denunciations and threats are signs of strength.

The Chinese have been criticized for allegedly selling or distributing damaged medical supplies to Europeans and others.  Maybe they have and maybe they haven’t.

But it’s an undoubted fact that the United States, by waging economic warfare against Iran and Venezuela, supporting Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Yemen and continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has made all these countries more vulnerable to the pandemic.

If American leaders want to rebuild our standing in the world, a first step would be to cease economic blockages, proxy wars and drone assassinations.

American power is based on threats.  Chinese power is based on promising material benefits.

I do not claim the Chinese are altruists.  I do think they would understand the old saying that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.

Donald Trump has accused Joe Biden of being soft on China.  Biden’s response is to claim it is Trump who is an appeaser of China.

China is growing stronger.  The United States is growing weaker.  The best response to the challenge of China is to reverse American decline.  This means building up the sources of American strength, as China did in the Deng Xiaoping era.


Coronavirus Timeline: How President Trump Failed to Protect America by Tim Dickinson for Rolling Stone.

How a Trump media dump mainstreamed Chinese lab coronavirus conspiracy theory by Max Blumenthal and Ajit Singh for The Greyzone.

COVID-19: New York Times Revives Its Role in Chinagate by Joe Lauria for Consortium News.

Why You Shouldn’t Trust Anyone Who Claims 80 Percent of America’s Drugs Come From China by Eric Boehm for Reason.

Mississippi and Missouri sue China over coronavirus by Kathryn Watson for CBS News.

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2 Responses to “Should we scapegoat China for the pandemic?”

  1. whungerford Says:

    A small problem from starting a feud with a neighbor is that both parties will suffer from it. A large problem with starting a cold war with China is that cold wars may lead to hot wars.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    I don’t see America growing weaker. We may not be growing as fast as China. There’s a difference. I don’t see any reason to get into a “race” when we’re still overwhelmingly powerful and when there’s a real chance for China to evolve to something better over the next couple of decades. The South China Sea will be where it all plays out.

    I read a report that US officials had visited the Wuhan virology facility a couple years ago and reported back to the State department that the technicians were poorly trained and protocols were inadequate. They were at the time studying coronaviruses from bats.

    Natural event or accidental release, Chinese behavior regarding the virus has so far been reprehensible. That fact they hid this for a month or more is inexcusable. It also shows one of the great drawbacks of authoritarian regimes. That kind of suppression of information is one way dictators stay in power.

    OTOH bloviating and blaming is not a productive use of energy in the midst of a pandemic. It distracts from the real issue. We just have to work without their full cooperation and get on with it. Right now it no longer matters.

    Makes a delicious campaign issue, tho.

    Biden is probably right. Trump is playing with China as surely as he is with Putin. It is a dangerous game. But, I’d find it really amusing if Russia and China were to decide to back different candidates in the same election. Wonder how that would turn out?


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