screengrab warontherocks.com
Sen. Chris Murphy’s op-ed for War On The Rocks dated April 21. (screengrab warontherocks.com)
JAMIL RAGLAND

Over the last decade, there has been a major change in the way American politicians and policymakers talk about China. Leaders here now openly discuss the relationship with China as one of “great power competition.”

That competition has accelerated dramatically since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China. Suspicions about China have even led some U.S. senators such as Tom Cotton of Arkansas to call China a “pariah state,” the same kind of language previously used to describe Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and other targets of American foreign policy.

Democrats are becoming increasingly belligerent toward China as well. Presidential candidate Joe Biden was criticized for the tone of a recent ad attacking President Trump’s relationship with China at the beginning of the pandemic. Connecticut’s own Sen. Chris Murphy has joined in, recently writing an opinion piece for War on the Rocks where he states that the United States should strengthen the World Health Organization instead of abandoning it.  While his goal may be laudable, Murphy makes his point by blaming President Trump’s decision to defund the WHO on a soft approach to China, going so far as to equate Trump with “China apologists.”

At best, arguing about China’s culpability right now is a waste of time in the face of immediate short- and middle-term challenges from the pandemic. At worst, it moves us further down the road of the developing cold war between the U.S. and China. The preoccupation with a more adversarial approach toward China is dangerous for two major reasons.

First, while Democrats and Republicans kick around the “I’m tougher on China” football, there has been no realistic federal plan to address the coronavirus. The pandemic may have started in China, but now the U.S. is far and away its epicenter. We account for nearly one third of confirmed global cases, and one fourth of global deaths. Let me say that again: one out of every four people on the planet who is confirmed to have died from this disease has been an American. We are still too far away from the national testing and contact tracing programs we need to save lives.

The economic response from the federal government has been ad hoc and disjointed as well. J. Crew’s bankruptcy may be the Lehman Brothers moment of this crisis, when we start to see the potential level of economic devastation coming. Our leaders need to be planning for this reality, not chest-thumping against China.

Second, it further deteriorates the relationship between the U.S. and China, two of the largest and most powerful nations in the world, precisely when we need cooperation more than ever. The increasingly heated rhetoric is part of a worrying trend that has seen the two trading barbs over each other’s military presence in the Pacific Ocean, China’s massive outlay of infrastructure spending around the world, and even the development of 5G technology. The accusations being hurled at China now regarding the coronavirus will only make resolving these already difficult problems even harder.

Pointing out the growing belligerence between China and the U.S. may seem alarmist, but it’s important to let our leaders know now that we want cooperation to solve global problems, not competition. And to be frank, it’s about saving lives – despite the misnomer of “cold war,” many people died in the last one. Our leaders need to do everything to save lives. That means Sens. Murphy and Cotton, President Trump, and everyone else need to focus on the pandemic and cool down the harsh words between our nations as we face a common threat.

Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.

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