Imagine the gall that would’ve been required had Republican nominee Mitt Romney campaigned for President in 2012 by blaming incumbent Barack Obama for the financial crisis and Great Recession of 2007-09. Not only did these economic disasters erupt well before Obama took office, but the White House at that time had been held for eight years by the GOP. (The Democrats did win control of the House and Senate in the 2006 midterm elections, but still….)
Multiply that gall many times over and you get this year’s presumptive Democratic candidate for President, Joe Biden, charging that Donald Trump is largely responsible for the devastating hit the nation is taking from the CCP Virus because Mr. Trump has been too soft on China. The Biden claims are much more contemptible because whereas Romney played no role in bringing on the Wall Street meltdown and subsequent near-depression, Biden has long supported many of the China policies that have both greatly enriched and militarily strengthened the People’s Republic, and sent key links in America’s supply chains for producing vital healthcare-related goods offshore – including to a China that has threatened the United States with healthcare supplies blackmail.
The Biden campaign’s most comprehensive indictment of President Trump’s China and CCP Virus policies was made in this release, titled “Trump Rolled Over for China.” Its core claim:
“We’d say Trump is weak on China, but that’s an understatement. Trump rolled over in a way that has been catastrophic for our country. He did nothing for months because he put himself and his political fortunes first. He refused to push China on its coronavirus response and delayed taking action to mitigate the crisis in an effort not to upset Beijing and secure a limited trade deal that has largely gone unfulfilled.”
More specifically, the Biden organization claims that even long before the pandemic broke out, Mr. Trump has “never followed through” on his 2016 campaign’s “big promises about being tough on China” and simply conducted “reckless trade policies that pushed farmers and manufacturers to the brink” before he was “forced to make concessions to China without making any progress toward a level playing field for American industry.”
I’d say “the mind reels” but that phrase doesn’t begin to capture the mendacity at work here. Not to mention the sheer incompetence. After all, the trade deal was signed on January 15. It was only two weeks before that China told the World Health Organization (WHO) that an unknown illness had appeared in Wuhan. On January 3, China officially notified the U.S. government. It was only the day before the trade deal signing that WHO broadcast to the world China’s claim (later exposed as disastrously erroneous – at best) that no evidence of person-to-person transmission had been found. It wasn’t until the very day of the deal signing that the individual who became the first known American virus case left Wuhan and arrived in the United States. It wasn’t until January 21 that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed him as the first American victim. (See this timeline for specifics.)
So evidently the Biden folks don’t know how to read a calendar.
Meanwhile, in early January, The New York Times has reported, CDC offered to send a team of its specialists to China to observe conditions and offer assistance. China never replied. On January 7, four days after Washington received its first CCP Virus notification, but two weeks before it identified the first U.S. virus case, the CDC began planning for tests. We now know that it bungled this challenge badly.
But did Trump coddle China in order to keep Beijing from terminating the agreement? Surely Biden’s team isn’t calling that failure an effort to appease China. It’s also true that on February 7, the Trump administration announced its readiness to provide Beijing with $100 million worth of anti-virus aid to China (and other countries), and had just sent nearly 18 tons of medical supplies (including protective gear) to help the People’s Republic combat the pandemic. But is the Biden campaign condemning these actions? From its indictment, it’s clear that its focus instead is on the numerous Trump statements praising China’s anti-virus performance and transparency, and reassuring the American public that the situation was under control.
Where, however, is the evidence that these remarks amounted to the President treating China with kid gloves, and stemmed from desperation to save the trade deal? Just as important, here we come to a fundamental incoherence in Biden’s treatment of the agreement – descriptions that are so flatly contradictory that they reek of flailing. After all, on the one hand, the Phase One agreement is dismissed as a fake that fails to safeguard American trade and broader economic interests adequately. On the other, it assumes that China has been eager from the start to call the whole thing off. Yet if Phase One had accomplished so little from the U.S. standpoint, wouldn’t Beijing actually have been focused on sustaining this charade?
But even if the Biden read on trade deal politics is correct, how to explain the January 31 Trump announcement of major restrictions on inbound travel from China that went into effect February 2? Clearly China didn’t like it. Or were these reactions part of a secret plot between the American and Chinese Presidents to snow their respective publics and indeed the entire world?
How, moreover, to explain such Trump administration policies as the continuing crackdown on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, and its effort to kick out of the U.S. market Chinese services provider China Telecom? Or the ongoing intensification of the Justice Department’s campaign against Chinese espionage efforts centered on U.S. college and university campuses? Or yesterday’s administration announcement that although some payments of U.S. tariffs on imports would be deferred in order to help hard-pressed American retailers survive the CCP Virus-induced national economic shutdown, the steep tariffs on literally hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of prospective imports from China would remain firmly in place?
In addition, all these measures of course put the lie to another central Biden claim – that Mr. Trump is not only soft on China today, but has been soft since his inauguration. A bigger goof – or whopper – can scarcely be imagined.
Unless it’s the companion Biden insistence that the Trump trade wars have devastated American agriculture and manufacturing? When, as documented painstakingly here, U.S. farm prices began diving into the dumps well before the Trump 2016 victory (when Biden himself was second-in-command in America)? When manufacturing, as documented equally painstakingly, went through the mildest recession conceivable, when its output was clearly hobbled by Boeing’s completely un-tradewar-related safety woes), and when every indication during the pre-virus weeks pointed to rebound? When the raging inflation widely predicted to stem from the tariffs has been absolutely nowhere in sight?
Which leaves the biggest lies of all: The claim that Biden is being tough on China now – the promise that he’ll “hold China accountable,” and the implication that he’s always been far-sighted and hard-headed in dealing with Beijing
According to the campaign’s Trump indictment, the former Vice President “publicly warned Trump in February not to take China’s word” on its anti-virus efforts. But this Biden warning didn’t come until February 26. As to making China pay, the campaign offers zero specifics – and given Biden’s staunch opposition to Mr. Trump’s tariffs (and silence on the other, major elements of the Trump approach to China) it’s legitimate to ask what on earth he’s talking about. In addition, Biden insinuated that the Trump curbs on travel from China were “xenophobia” the very day they were announced – before pushback prompted him to endorse them.
Finally, the Biden China record has been dreadful by any real-world standards. In the words of this analysis from the Cato Institute, “he voted consistently to maintain normal trade relations with China, including permanent NTR in 2000” – meaning that he favored the disastrous decision to admit China into the World Trade Organization (WTO), which gave Beijing invaluable protection against unilateral U.S. efforts to combat its pervasive trade predation. He did apparently vote once for sanctions to punish China for its currency manipulation (which has artificially under-priced goods made in China and thereby given them government-created advantages against any competition), but many such Senate trade votes were purely for show. (I apologize for not being able to find the specific reference, and will nail down the matter in an addendum and post as soon as possible.)
Revealingly, once he was in the Obama administration, he failed to lift a finger to continue the battle against this Chinese exchange-rate protectionism, and served as the President’s “leading pitchman” for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, whose provisions would have handed China many of the benefits of membership without imposing any of the obligations. More generally, there’s no evidence of any Biden words or actions opposing an Obama strategy that greatly enriched the People’s Republic, and therefore supercharged its military potential and actual power.
For good measure, despite constant bragging that his personal contact with numerous foreign leaders during his Senate and Vice Presidential years, he completely misjudged Xi Jinping, writing in a 2011 article that the Chinese dictator (then heir apparent to the top job in Beijing) “agrees” that “we have a stake in each other’s success” and that “On issues from global security to global economic growth, we share common challenges and responsibilities — and we have incentives to work together.”
There clearly are many valid reasons to support Biden’s Presidential bid. But if China’s rise and its implications worry you (as they should), then the former Vice President’s record of dealing with Beijing just as clearly shouldn’t be one of them.