In a sense, it’s pointless to debate whether the United States should have a more hawkish policy toward China, because we’ll have one regardless of how the 2020 elections go. There’s a broad consensus among both of the political parties and foreign policy experts across the ideological spectrum that the U.S. will need to be more confrontational and assertive with China in the years ahead.

But the more decisive factor is that Americans have been souring on China for years, and the pandemic has only hardened feelings. Last month, the Pew Research Center found that two-thirds of Americans have an unfavorable view of China. A Harris poll found that 90 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of Democrats think China was at least partially to blame for the spread of COVID-19. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 31 percent of Americans flat out consider China an “enemy.”

In short, the leaders will be following the voters. That’s why the “debate” — really just a two-way barrage of insults — between the Donald Trump and Joe Biden campaigns boils down to who can be trusted to be tougher on China.

Count me among the hawks. The Communist Party of China may not have any ideological connection to actual communism anymore, but it retains the brutality, bigotry and authoritarianism that gave communism its bad name in the first place.

But “hawkishness” or “toughness” or whatever word you prefer isn’t an actual foreign policy. Hawkishness is a means, not an ends.

So what are those ends? What do we want to achieve? And what calamities do we want to avoid?

The answers to the latter are easiest. Only fools want an actual war with China. Even if it didn’t escalate to a nuclear exchange, a major military confrontation would offer few benefits for the U.S. Personally, I’d be in favor of regime change in China if that were achievable with relatively low costs in blood and treasure. But I’ve seen no plausible plan for that.

We also do not want to create an international financial crisis or destroy America’s status as the world’s reserve currency. So that means defaulting on our massive debt to China is out. Bringing all of our industry home sounds attractive, but if you ask any informed person about that, it’s easier said than done. Under the best of circumstances it would take us years to dismantle the supply chains that currently exist without needlessly damaging our economy.

Pick whatever goals you like; a smart foreign policy would try to bring the rest of the world with us at the end of that process. If you think of countries as customers for our products and services, we do not benefit if we break off from China and no one comes with us.

Polls across Europe show growing hostility toward China, but they show a dismaying distrust of the U.S. as well. Thirty-six percent of Germans say the pandemic has caused them to think less of China. But the same poll found that 76 percent of Germans felt that way about the U.S.

Of course, countries aren’t just markets for our wares. They’re also current or potential allies or enemies, and a policy that creates more allies for China and fewer for America would be foolish.

Consider Trump’s intensifying attacks on the World Health Organization and his threat to withdraw all U.S. funding from it (which he can’t actually do without approval from Congress). Trump is right about many of his complaints, even if he gets some of the particulars wrong. The WHO was too deferential to China in the early days of the pandemic. But what would be the net result of American withdrawal? China would be left standing as an even bigger influence on the organization.

It’s analogous to Trump’s misguided decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That was an effort to counter China’s trade advantages in the region. Trump’s unilateral withdrawal was “hawkish,” but it was the kind of hawkishness China welcomes.

Perhaps the goal with the WHO is simply to remind it of its responsibilities, in which case a little bluster is fine. But if we’re entering into a great-power rivalry with China, the goal has to be to line up the most desirable players on the board with us, not them.

That shouldn’t be hard, but I see no reason why we should make it harder just to sound tough.

Jonah Goldberg is an editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him in care of this newspaper or by email at

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.

(19) comments


Since we are so dependent on China, do we really have the power to set terms with them? Is it wise to be upsetting the apple cart?


Pinko commies ARE our Enemies! Always have been, still are. BUT!! DJ Trump thinks everybody is out to get him. Democrats, Liberals, Mass Media, the FBI, IG’s, the Deep State, Blue State Governors, Dr. Fauci, everybody except the pinko commies?? Putin owns him, he believes Putin over his own Government. He believed Kim’s every promise. Xi pulls away the football every time he tries to kick it and falls on his duff.


What this should achieve is diversifying our imports. No reason why 90% of things should be imported from China. There are many other nations including our own where products can be made, but more realistically other Asian and Latin American countries where this is possible. Over the the next 10 years China should be put into a recession, very much like Japan a while back. This should be only part of their punishment for their role in handling COVID-19.


Remember when everything was made in Japan, and we were afraid Japan would buy our country?


Nov 2 I believe China will retake Taiwan


A Republican thermonuclear war with would ensure Trump’s re-election by wiping out the majority of US voters.


"But if we’re entering into a great-power rivalry with China, the goal has to be to line up the most desirable players on the board with us, not them." For forever we were t

patronized as one-language proficient affable bubbas but now are just disliked. Geez how did that happen.


Why has it taken a pandemic for the U.S. to realize the problem we have with China. It has been going on for 40 years. They steal our patents and trade marks. They make cheap products with under age workers, they pollute the air and violate safety rules the U.S. would enforce. All made possible by large corporations looking to save a few dollars.


You are absolutely correct Dick, and the problem with China is growing. Construction is happening everywhere, and just about every company has a manufacturing operation there. It's more than a few dollars, its several dollars per unit sold, resulting in billions upon billions of dollars saved. We have effectively outsourced our entire generic drug manufacturing to China and India. Neither country respects patents or intellectual property either. We need to onshore our critical and strategic supply chains.


It is a love -hate relationship with China. We hate their dirty tatics but love the low prices on goods and services they supply. Gave up long ago trying to buy only things "made in America." As long as corporations have undue influence on the legislature, as long as profits over ethics rule, and as long as the stock market/banking industries hold sway, a solution is difficult. Trade wars won't work by themselves.


Hay, add "as long as Americans want to pay as little as possible" to your list. Once one company makes cheap goods in China, it puts them at a competitive advantage, causing everyone else to do the same to regain parity. People are hypocritical. They want high wages for everyone regardless of job function, yet complain about the cost of goods. Reality is, despite what they may say, people vote with their wallets. I too look for "made in USA", but it is getting darned near impossible to find. I believe the only running shoes that are made here are a segment of the New Balance brand. Same for clothing, household goods, sports equipment, electronics, etc.


Look at all the clothing made in N. Carolina - all gone. Now we send cotton to China to make clothes and they send the clothes back to the U.S. Here is a good web site to see what China has stolen.


Lincoln had the right idea when he said "The best way to destroy an enemy is to make a friend." It may not always be easy, but it can be done and will be worth the effort.


Be careful that friend doesn't stab you in the back, Gary. Until China opens up you will only get lip service from them. Trust but verify.


Dick - what president received accolades for "opening" China and starting the exodus of manufacturing?


It was Nixon, but I expect the current "leaders" would say he was a RINO.


I quite agree. Do verify and do be up front about what we want. I see no need for another "land war in Asia."


China doesn't want or need us as a friend, at least not as long as we have a presence in and around their waters and territory. They have very different values from us, simply said we're just not compatible.


That needs to be tested as Nixon tested it. Make them an offer. Friends are always less expensive.

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