Thursday, October 08, 2020

China Gap

After decades of watching presidential and vice-presidential debates, I can't help but conclude that the Pence-Harris snoozefest in Utah was the worst ever of the lot. Susan Page asks a question and the respondents get two minutes to talk about whatever it is that's on their minds.

And of course there was Mike Pence's strategy of going over the time allotted, whether in his response to a question from Page or in the time he was given to react to Kamala Harris' answer.

Page concluded a question of Pence by asking "how would you describe our fundamental relationship with China? Competitors? Adversaries? Enemies? You have two minutes." (The last four words were not intended for comic relief.) She asked the same question of Harris, a difficult one for a ticket led by Donald Trump and one even more difficult for a Biden-Harris ticket.

Although President Trump has tried to make mainland China out to be an enemy- or at least wants to be perceived as doing so- it's difficult to label the third most powerful (and gaining) nation in the world an "enemy" or even an "adversary." It is far riskier than it was to blast the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Therefore, Pence did not do so. He led with "first and foremost, China is to blame for the coronavirus and President Trump is not happy about it," which is the Administration's all-purpose justification of the past seven months. (I know, I know: Trump's "we love each other" is not exactly throwing the gauntlet down.)

He skillfully avoided answering the question while invoking the word "China" eleven times- and in an upset, only twice after the first time Page told him that his time was up. In response to the same question from the moderator, Senator Harris stated

Susan, the Trump administration’s perspective and approach to China has resulted in the loss of American lives, American jobs, and America’s standing. There is a weird obsession that President Trump has had with getting rid of whatever accomplishment was achieved by President Obama and Vice President Biden. For example, they created within the White House and office that basically was responsible for monitoring pandemics. They got rid of it....

There was a team of disease experts that President Obama and Vice President Biden dispatched to China to monitor what is now predictable and what might happen. They pulled them out. We now are looking at 210,000 Americans who have lost their lives. Let’s look at the job situation. We mentioned before, the trade deal, the trade war, they wanted to call it with China. It resulted in the loss of over 300 manufacturing jobs and a manufacturing recession and the American consumer paid thousands of dollars, more for goods because of that failed war that they called it. Then let’s talk about standing. Pew, a reputable research firm has done an analysis that shows that leaders of all of our formerly allied countries have now decided that they hold in greater esteem and respect Xi Jinping the head of the Chinese communist party than they do Donald Trump. The President of the United States, the commander in chief of the United States. This is where we are today because of a failure of leadership by this administration.

This was an attempt to jam as many disparate things as possible into one answer. A tighter, better response would have been to emphasize that President Trump does not understand the world as it is and does not know how to make America strong. As David Frum (emphasis his) notes, Trump has thrown the hard-earned money of American taxpayers at the Pentagon, which on mainland China

seems to have had no effect at all. Ships and planes cannot protect democratic demonstrators in Hong Kong, or pressure China to crack down on North Korea, or stop Chinese cyberattacks on U.S. hospitals, or match China’s aid to resource-rich African countries. The two countries are just playing different games. When the United States accumulates weapons to win the game China is not playing, it does not prevent China from winning the game China is playing.

The ending could have been expanded to "when the United States accumulates weapons to win the game China is not playing, it does not prevent China from winning the game China is playing. We are losing on this president's watch."

I hope that Senator Harris didn't go that route because in a race her ticket appears to be winning, she figured any gamble is a bad bet.  But my fear is that while President Trump addresses problems with mainland China only in fits and spurts and largely ineffectively, the alternative of a Biden-Harris administration will be to have no answer at all.


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