The National Pulse
china

Divest. From. China.

Since 1980, the United States has granted “Most Favored Nation” trading status to China on the condition that they improve their record on human rights as well as play fair regarding international commerce.

Despite not living up to those conditions, every president since has granted a waiver maintaining the status for another year, sometimes against the advice of Congress.

Presidents Bush and Clinton both supported normalized trade relations with China.

“Will we do more to advance the cause of human rights if China is isolated?” Clinton asked in 1994, suggesting that opening trade would encourage more liberalization and freedom in the Middle Kingdom.

President Clinton urged Congress to grant permanent trade status to China throughout his presidency. Congress finally agreed in 2000, and President George W. Bush signed the law the following year.

A Buy American Mural in New York (Flickr/2009)

Thus began an audacious experiment to change China through trade and openness. Unfortunately, twenty years of hindsight shows it to be a miserable failure.

Rather than allowing China to adopt the best of Western culture, open trade has instead brought the worst of China – the gangster political ruling class – to the West.

Corporations such as Apple and Google have invested heavily in China, taking advantage of cheap manufacturing as well as for access to the largest developing market on earth.

Hollywood and the NBA have also become dependent on the Chinese economy.

For all their talk of social justice, cash is still king. While American companies have no problem criticizing US government policies, they tread carefully around China’s record of abuse for fear of losing access to such a lucrative market.

Normalized trade has not had the desired effect on the Chinese government.

More than three decades after the Tiananmen Square massacre, China is still being accused of some of the most horrific crimes against humanity, from the deliberate genocide of Muslim Uighurs to harvesting organs from political prisoners.

What have American citizens gained from this trade relationship? Sure, we’ve got some cheap goods and electronics. But at what cost?

Since normalizing trade, China has stolen millions of manufacturing jobs while flooding our cities and towns with deadly drugs such as fentanyl. They have shamelessly copied our intellectual property, hacked our corporate and government computer networks, and have now unleashed a global outbreak that has killed thousands and brought our economy to a standstill.

Donald Trump has been urging America to divest from China for a long time.

As a businessman, he saw the danger of relying too much on a belligerent regime. As President, he has used tariffs to level the playing field and to urge American companies to bring manufacturing back to our country. The coronavirus pandemic should be the final nail in the coffin of Chinese entanglement: It is time to decouple.

Japan is taking the lead on divestment, with their government pledging more than $2 billion to help their companies move their manufacturing away from China. Japan was particularly hard-hit when the pandemic shut down Chinese manufacturing, and Japanese leaders want to avoid being in such a vulnerable position again.

Germany, worried about Chinese firms buying up domestic companies facing bankruptcy, strengthened its foreign investment law to prevent hostile takeovers by China or any other nation.

“We in Germany and Europe need to have our own competencies and technologies in certain areas,” said economic minister Peter Altmaier.

Even the US Department of Justice (DOJ) recognizes the necessity of decoupling from China.

This week the DOJ urged the FCC to revoke the license of a Chinese government owned company that provides telecommunications services in the United States.

“Today, more than ever, the life of the nation and its people runs on our telecommunications networks,” explained John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security. “Today’s action is but our next step in ensuring the integrity of America’s telecommunications systems.”

The American people are starting to demand decoupling from China.

Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who has introduced bills to return manufacturing to our country, recently signal-boosted a suggestion that Amazon give customers the ability to filter out products that are made in China.

Cheap consumer products have simply not been worth the cost we continue to pay, every day.

If given the opportunity, many Americans will gladly follow President Trump’s advice to “buy American and hire American”.

It is time we rectify the mistake we made more than twenty years ago and finally end our abusive relationship with China.

Brian Almon

Brian Almon is a 2020 National Pulse Writing Fellow