The United States ought to continue to decouple its economy from that of the People’s Republic of China. Our dependence on power-hungry and despotic authoritarian regimes is dangerous and unnecessary.
In an interview with Chinese state-run news outlet Global Times, former Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference chairman Zhu Weiqun stated, “Anti-China forces have become addicted to targeting China’s policy in Xinjiang and the vocational education and training centers over the years, like some addicts who cannot help using drugs.” Based on this statement, it is a sound assumption that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not take kindly to foreign scrutiny or criticism.
Now, here’s a quote directly from the General Secretary of the CCP and de facto leader of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping: “The South China Sea … [has] been China’s territory since ancient times. It is the bounded duty of the Chinese government to uphold China’s sovereignty.”
When foreign powers and multinational organizations criticize China’s operation of concentration camps in Xinjiang, China is the victim of rabid, ignorant “anti-China forces.” However, when China wants to claim 1.4 million square miles of the South China Sea as territorial sea in brazen contradiction to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which China is a signatory, effectively holding a knife to the jugular of global trade and freedom of navigation, China is merely upholding its territorial claims.
I suppose when you run a government that isn’t accountable to anyone foreign or domestic, and when you have a monopoly on the information that enters and leaves your country, you don’t have to bother with consistency.
Because the CCP is the sole party in a non-democratic state, the organization will not face any internal consequences for egregious violations of maritime borders in the South China Sea, intellectual property theft — in 2019, 20 percent of all North American companies reported having IP stolen by Chinese actors — or human rights abuses such as the internment and ethnic cleansing of Uyghurs in Xinjiang or organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners. External sanctions from China’s largest trading partner may encourage some humane reforms.
Therefore, in the interest of protecting U.S. national security, the IP rights of Western corporations, the human rights of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, religious minorities in Tibet and freedom of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, the U.S. ought to take steps to decouple its economy from that of China.
This is one of those rare cases where I find myself in relative agreement with the actions of the Trump administration. A series of simple tariffs beginning in 2018 have decreased the U.S. trade deficit with China from $378 billion in 2018 to $345.6 billion in 2019, which may not be that much, but it’s a step in the right direction. The addition of Huawei to the entity list and the “TikTok ban,” which is more of a ban of TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, may seem harsh, but help safeguard the privacy and intellectual property of U.S. individuals and companies.
However, that’s not to suggest that the Trump Administration’s handling of the situation has been flawless or beyond reproach. For instance, several attempts at bilateral agreements proposing a return to the status quo have been made by both sides. In January 2020, a “phase one trade deal” was signed, with provisions taking effect in February. The fact that a trade deal was reached, in and of itself, is not an issue in my opinion.
Rather, I take issue with the fact that this is a return to the US-China “status quo” marked by a substantial trade deficit. Although China agreed to purchase an additional $200 billion of U.S. goods over the next two years, only 45 percent of what was promised has been purchased. It seems that even the administration which has always inundated us with rhetoric about being “tough on China” can’t seem to learn that promises made by the CCP are completely divorced from the reality of the policy the Party carries out.
What should be done, then? I propose a continuous stream of incremental sanctions to gradually incentivize U.S. companies which manufacture in China to bring manufacturing jobs either back to the U.S. through automation, or elsewhere in Southeast Asia. If we extrapolate the trend observed from the U.S. trade deficit in 2018 compared to 2019, this course of action could leave the U.S. free of trade deficit with China in roughly ten years.