Trump’s Shameful Blame Game

The neoliberal Council on Foreign Relations through its journal Foreign Affairs has amped up its criticisms of China. United States president Donald Trump and American officials have orchestrated a gambit to deflect unwanted attention from the miserable US response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the souring US economy. The Trump administration has directed its invective at China which elsewhere has been praised for its handling of the COVID-19 epidemic, getting back to business, and helping out other countries to fight the virus.

The recent weekend email from Foreign Affairs warned of threats to chairman Xi Jinping’s leadership and the Chinese Communist party

China has reported its first economic contraction in more than four decades, with the country’s GDP falling by 6.8 percent in the first quarter compared to the same period last year.

Can the Chinese regime survive economic stagnation?

The article is titled “China’s Coming Upheaval: Competition, the Coronavirus, and the Weakness of Xi Jinping.” It begins,

Over the past few years, the United States’ approach to China has taken a hard-line turn, with the balance between cooperation and competition in the U.S.-Chinese relationship tilting sharply toward the latter.

Xi Jinping made the Chinese government’s priority clear: “the people’s safety and health always come first…” Given the relatively successful battle (still ongoing) against COVID-19 in China, few would characterize Xi as weak. Xi oversaw the rapid rollout of effective containment measures; he marshalled the army and medical staff from around the country and sent them to Wuhan, where hospitals were erected in record time. If Xi is weak, then how does Trump stack up?

The article continues:

The United States has limited means of influencing China’s closed political system, but the diplomatic, economic, and military pressure that Washington can bring to bear on Beijing will put Xi and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) he leads under enormous strain. Indeed, a prolonged period of strategic confrontation with the United States, such as the one China is currently experiencing, will create conditions that are conducive to dramatic changes.

Why should the US, or any country, have influence over China’s political system? Is it not the people of a country that should have influence over the politics and the political system? Then there is the contradiction of speaking to the application of diplomatic pressure. Diplomacy is about the art of negotiation, using linguistic, cultural, historical, and other wisdom with sensitivity. Moreover, when diplomacy is combined with economic pressure and military pressure, then all pretense at diplomacy is destroyed. It becomes about creating “enormous strain.”

Foreign Affairs seemingly holds onto the illusion of the US still being a unitary superpower, as if it has the wherewithal to exert its will upon China. However, diplomacy had apparently been abandoned by Trump before he even became president. ((On 21 September 2011, Trump tweeted, “China is neither an ally or a friend — they want to beat us and own our country.” 0n 2 May 2016, Trump said, “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country and that’s what they’re doing. It’s the greatest theft in the history of the world.” See “The US-China Trade War: A Timeline.”)) Trump has been steering the US to economically pressure China and other countries. Specific to China, on 22 March 2018, Trump signed a memorandum (1) to file a WTO case against China alleging discriminatory licensing practices; (2) to limit investment in key technology sectors; and (3) to levy tariffs on Chinese products (e.g., aerospace, information communication technology, and machinery). ((See “The US-China Trade War: A Timeline.”)) China reciprocated. The trade frictions remain unresolved to this day. Military pressure? You cannot meaningfully apply military pressure against a nuclear-armed nation because both nuclear states will wind up diminished by maximal conflict. Therefore, Foreign Affairs‘ prognostication of “dramatic changes” without specification comes across as prattle.

The article’s weak thesis becomes apparent by its seeking to persuade through ad hominem, calling China a “paper tiger,” the government a “regime,” ((A pejorative.)) and accusing Xi of “strongman rule.”

Another anti-China article currently appears in Foreign Affairs, “The Pandemic Won’t Make China the World’s Leader: Few Countries Are Buying the Model or the Message from Beijing”:

As China appeared to contain the spread of the coronavirus while the United States and Western Europe suffered large outbreaks of their own, the pandemic and the resulting global recession were said to mark a geopolitical reordering that would leave China as the victor. Beijing certainly saw such an opportunity, launching an international campaign stressing the failures of democratic governance and casting itself as the leader of the global pandemic response. [italics added]

But it is doubtful that Beijing’s gambit will succeed in turning a pandemic that likely started in a Chinese city into a major step in China’s rise. There are real limits to China’s capacity to take advantage of the current crisis—whether through disingenuous propaganda or ineffective global action.

First, where is the evidence of “Beijing … launching an international campaign stressing the failures of democratic governance and casting itself as the leader of the global pandemic response”? Sounds like absolute rubbish. Why should any reader believe such a claim without substantiation? Second, again the writers assert, without presenting ironclad or even flimsy evidence, that the pandemic started in a Chinese city? And what if this is true? What then? Would any city wish to be the starting point for a pandemic? So why state this unless the writers intend to instill a negative image in the minds of readers? And “disingenuous propaganda”? Again no evidence. Again ad hominem on top of ad hominem.

The writers continue,

Beijing’s approach will be compared not only to that of the United States but also to the impressive actions of many Asian countries, including several democracies. Beijing failed badly at first—due to a striking and predictable lack of transparency—and Washington is failing now. But democratic South Korea and Taiwan have performed better than both. South Korea’s impressive testing and contact-tracing regime and Taiwan’s early detection and containment efforts reflect both their governance choices and their ability to learn from past experience with pandemics. Citizens and governments looking for models are more likely to choose those democratic successes than China’s vaunted authoritarian alternative and draconian containment efforts—the real costs of which remain unknown.

Let’s compare! From the data on 19 April 2020:

CountryNew CasesTotal Cases/1MTotal Deaths/1M
United States+258442310123
South Korea+82085

And what about North Korea? Zero cases of COVID-19 are claimed.

What does the data tell us? It tells us that Foreign Affairs is, pardon the language, full of shit! The data tells us that the US is in an unenviable class by itself compared to the other countries that Foreign Affairs sought to analyze. No Schadenfreude is intended in noting that the suffering is immense in the US. China differs little from the other two Asian “democracies.” ((I contend that China is, at least, as much of a democracy as those two Asian entities (and to be accurate, Taiwan is a province of another country: China). Moreover the argument has been compellingly made that China is much more of a democracy than the US. See Wei Ling Chua, Democracy: What the West Can Learn from China, 2013. Review.))

In the end, Foreign Affairs argues,

China’s economy is too dependent on external demand from the United States and Europe to become the sole savior of the global economy. The 12 countries hardest hit by the virus today account for about 40 percent of China’s exports. Many of these countries are also China’s top suppliers of intermediate goods. China’s economy will not be able to return to its prior growth trajectory of some five to six percent annually until the economies of the United States and the European Union recover, as well.

The IMF’s “World Economic Outlook, April 2020” found:

On p 21 of the full text of the IMF report were further projections for GDP:

South Korea2.0-1.23.4

China is not wedded to the US. It has options. China will likely wait out the trade war with the US, further diversify its trade, and deepen reliance on its own domestic spending to sustain its economy.

The Blame Game

In a previous article, I wrote how the COVID-19 Pandemic has set up an unfortunate experiment whereby one could observe the differences between Chinese socialism versus American capitalism. So far, this is boding poorly for the socialism-hating Trump.

The Business Insider stated, “Trump ignored multiple warnings about the threat of a pandemic, and spent the last 2 years slashing the programs responsible for handling this outbreak.”

The US health system and economy is wilting under Trump’s mismanagement of COVID-19. Trump needs a scapegoat, and that scapegoat for him is China. So in Trumpspeak, SARS-CoV-2 is the “China virus.” The World Health Organization has also been lambasted by Trump as being too “China-centric.” Similar to the child who threatens to take home his ball from the playground unless his playmates go along with his rules, Trump has threatened to cut funding to the WHO.

Foreign affairs analyst Adriel Kasonta considers Trump’s policy towards China and the WHO is nothing short of blackmail and a maneuver to reduce debts to China.

Trump gets no succor from US House speaker Nancy Pelosi who “listed in unsparing terms what she saw as the President’s failings on multiple fronts, from how he ‘dismantled the infrastructure handed to him which was meant to plan for and overcome a pandemic’ to his ignoring warnings about the virus and telling ‘his most loyal followers that the pandemic was a hoax.'”

China was helped out by fellow nations when it was first hit by COVID-19. China has been generous in helping out now that it has regained its health and economic footing. But even such aid draws scorn. European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell openly criticized Chinese efforts as “a struggle for influence through spinning and the ‘politics of generosity.’” Borell claimed,

China is aggressively pushing the message that, unlike the US, it is a responsible and reliable partner. In the battle of narratives, we have also seen attempts to discredit the EU as such and some instances where Europeans have been stigmatised as if all were carriers of the virus.

It must have stung some in the EU when so many European countries, among others, accepted the aid from China, especially when the Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said, “I believe in my brother and friend [Chinese chairman] Xi Jinping and I believe in China’s help,” as well as dissing European solidarity.

There is something untoward about a recipient taking what is being offered by a hand and then slapping the hand aside afterwards.

Take a listen to business tycoon Jack Ma who puts most eloquently what many already understood: that giving is its own reward.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.