“In war: resolution; In defeat: defiance; In victory: magnanimity; In peace: goodwill,” — former British prime minister Winston Churchill.
US President Donald Trump says the US is fighting a war on “an invisible enemy — the war is against the virus.” He sees himself as “a wartime president,” implicitly invoking images of former US presidents Franklin Roosevelt during World War II or George W. Bush after Sept. 11, 2001.
War is an apt description of the national mobilization effort being waged in the US against the coronavirus pandemic by the president, governors, local officials and public health community.
However, the outbreak has shown that the US and the Western world are under attack by an adversary that is quite visible.
The People’s Republic of China, with reckless disregard for the consequences, initially refused to take the necessary actions to halt the outbreak of COVID-19.
The unresolved question is whether the global spread of the virus resulted exclusively from the Chinese Communist Party’s incompetence, stubborn bureaucratic rigidity and inclination to evade the truth, qualities it has displayed in previous epidemics.
Further intelligence work might reveal a possible connection to other contemporaneous facts. China’s Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, also is the location of at least two Chinese government biomedical research laboratories.
One was established by Charles Lieber, an American who heads Harvard University’s chemistry and chemical biology department. He funded the project with a US grant, and was indicted by the US Department of Justice for hiding his China connections.
At the same time, two Chinese academics were arrested in Boston, one for violating US law by not disclosing her involvement with the Chinese government, and the other for stealing 21 vials of biological materials and attempting to smuggle them to China.
Even if those criminal deceptions and thefts of intellectual property are purely coincidental and unrelated to the pandemic, they reflect the Cold War strategy China has been waging against the US for decades, which is finally attracting the attention it deserves.
In the 1940s, Churchill called on the free world to muster its resolution in the war against the Nazis and fascists in Europe.
In this era’s existential confrontation with China, Trump has been the first president to demonstrate that kind of resolve — on the economic and trade front, on Taiwan and on China’s maritime aggression in the South China Sea.
The Trump administration also has taken unprecedented action on human rights, journalistic freedom and diplomatic reciprocity.
Yet, while Trump’s national security team has had significant success in several arenas of contention with Beijing, his instinctual application of Churchill’s “magnanimity in victory” principle is premature and misdirected.
Even before the economic effects of the pandemic, Beijing had a long way to go in making the structural domestic changes Trump has demanded to achieve fair trade and transparent economic relations.
It has reneged on intellectual property theft commitments and in other areas. Its aggression against Taiwan and in the South China Sea has escalated.
Trump maintains that he has good personal chemistry with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and praises his leadership. Xi never publicly reciprocates, keeping his focus on the US as China’s prime adversary.
Trump even gave China a pass for undermining sanctions against North Korea, whose nuclear and missile programs increasingly threaten the US and its allies.
Similarly, he excuses North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for his ongoing missile tests, and absolved him of responsibility for his regime’s torture and murder of Otto Warmbier.
After initially praising Xi for “working very hard” and acting responsibly to contain the outbreak, Trump has come around to “wishing” that China had been more forthcoming much earlier about its spread, so other countries could have prepared their defenses more effectively.
What triggered Trump’s criticism was China blatantly suggesting that the virus started not in Wuhan, but elsewhere, possibly even by the US military.
“As you know China tried to say at one point ... that it was caused by American soldiers,” Trump told reporters on March 18. “That can’t happen. It’s not going to happen, not as long as I’m president. It comes from China.”
He retaliated by referring repeatedly to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” which immediately invited cries of racism and reports that Asian Americans were being targeted for verbal and even physical abuse.
In his news conference on Monday last week, Trump avoided the term, saying at one point that the virus came from “somewhere,” though he eventually mentioned China as the original source.
The entire pandemic experience seems to have reinforced what the president knows intuitively and what his National Defense Strategy lays out in national security prose.
The US is confronting a multidimensional and existential challenge from China and must respond not only with economic, military and other national security means, but also on the ideological level, even if Trump would spurn that term.
For the rest of the world, the global crisis that China has created has starkly confirmed what most already know or fear about its government: It is, at best, politically corrupt and untrustworthy, and at worst, brutally inhumane and aggressive in its intentions.
This awareness provides a historic opportunity for Washington to undertake a Cold War-level information campaign, both within and outside China, to demand fundamental political reform.
As was done in Taiwan and in South Korea, the process can be accomplished peacefully and incrementally but inexorably, leading to full democratization.
When China is finally on that path, which it has falsely promised under four decades of engagement, Trump can claim “a very, very powerful victory over the virus” — that is, the political malady of Chinese communism.
Then, in the spirit of both Churchill and Roosevelt, he can show US’ magnanimity to the liberated Chinese people.
Joseph Bosco served as China country director in the office of the US secretary of defense. He is a fellow at the Institute for Taiwan-American Studies and a member of the advisory committee of the Global Taiwan Institute.
China took advantage of the vacuum left behind when US carriers stayed out of the western Pacific Ocean due to COVID-19 outbreaks on several US Navy warships. The Chinese government is solidifying its hold on artificial islands in the South China Sea by moving in missiles and surveillance equipment, and formalizing its occupation by creating two municipal districts in the region under Hainan Island’s Sansha — Xisha District on Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島) to administer the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) and Nansha District on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑島) to administer the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) —
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