Unexpected events can shatter even the strongest consensus on a given topic. The coronavirus pandemic is such a moment when it comes to America’s relationship with China.
Until relatively recently, most Western policymakers calculated that a steady integration of China into the global economy would be of mutual economic benefit for China and Western nations. Trade with other countries and an associated growth of commercial freedoms inside China, it was further held, would soften the regime’s authoritarian character, gently create space for other domestic liberties, and help tame China’s more aggressive external impulses.
That consensus has, however, been collapsing for some time. This was signaled by the 2017 National Security Strategy issued by the Trump Administration. Many policies, it stated, had been “based on the assumption that engagement with rivals and their inclusion in international institutions and global commerce would turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners.” But, the document then added, “For the most part, this premise turned out to be false.”
A major effect of the coronavirus pandemic has been to confirm that economic integration has not substantially changed the Chinese regime’s nature. The question thus becomes: where does America go from here vis-à-vis China? Even more particularly, what should America do about its trade relationship with China?
The evidence that China’s gradual entry into global markets has not produced the results anticipated by many Westerners is overwhelming. By no measure of political, religious, or civil freedom can China be described as liberalizing.
The Chinese regime’s long-standing authoritarian character was enhanced when Xi Jinping replaced Hu Jintao as Communist Party general secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission in November 2012 and then as China’s president in March 2013.
Carolina Journal Radio highlighted some of these same concerns during a recent interview with Walter Lohman of the Heritage Foundation.