Opinion

KOLB: It’s Time To Boycott China

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Charles Kolb Deputy Assistant to George H.W. Bush
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Actions have consequences; so do ideologies.

We now know that the Chinese government took extensive steps to prevent the timely dissemination of information about the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. Critical medical information was withheld, and medical professionals attempting to alert the public were threatened and/or silenced. An early whistleblower, a doctor in his thirties, subsequently died from the virus.

These actions flowed directly from the authoritarian nature of the Chinese Communist Party and its ideology of one-party control and avoiding anything that might provoke social unrest or undermine the CCP’s image and authority.

The world now faces the consequences of the CCP’s reprehensible behavior. Hundreds of thousands of people may die, millions face unemployment and economic hardship and trillions of dollars will be spent rebuilding economies, businesses, and infrastructure.  The human and economic toll is staggering.

China must be held accountable. The United States must help ensure that: (1) there is a full accounting for the origins of the Wuhan coronavirus, (2) China faces significant economic penalties for the harm its leaders have inflicted and (3) the Chinese government commits to openness and transparency going forward.

The Internet is awash with stories (some or all of which may be Fake News) that the Wuhan virus resulted from a mishap at one or more biowarfare facilities in Hubei province.  Let’s determine the coronavirus’ origins, its transmission and its infection and mortality rates in China and elsewhere through an independent, international commission, not the compromised, China-centric World Health Organization.

Nearly 40 years ago, countries collectively enforced sanctions against South Africa to force that country’s regime to end apartheid. These sanctions were morally justified and effective.

Today, China engages in serious human rights violations against religious minorities, consistently disseminates unreliable data on several important international issues, blatantly steals intellectual property and erect firewalls blocking citizen access to the internet.

China wants the benefits of competitive global markets while also maintaining a closed, nontransparent government and society. China cannot have it both ways. Either China commits to openness, transparency and tolerance, or it should be quarantined economically and politically like South Africa. The world now sees the harm flowing from an authoritarian, closed society. Until China alters its behavior, let’s boycott Chinese goods and services.

Companies should clearly identify where products are made, assembled and what components, if any, come from China. Consumers can then make informed choices.

We have outsourced too many critical aspects of our economy, especially to China. We should rethink globalization, its breadth and depth.  I have long been (and remain) a globalization supporter; communications and information technology alone will ensure significant degrees of positive, global interconnectedness. But healthy globalization must also entail commitments to openness and transparency.

The disruptions caused by globalization can impose significant social and economic costs that have not been properly considered by rigorous cost-benefit analysis. For decades, prominent consulting firms and others promoted maximizing shareholder value by reducing production costs and shifting labor costs to lower-cost countries.

These same firms should now undertake a thorough globalization cost-benefit analysis that considers the social and economic costs, as well as the national, economic and health security implications associated with outsourcing.

Life is not all “buy low, sell high.” Even the chief proponent of free-market capitalism, Adam Smith, recognized the intrinsic value and critical importance of strong, vibrant communities.  While capital today can ricochet around the world in a nanosecond, labor is far less mobile. Governments must identify those industries, goods, services (such as health care) and technologies that are national priorities.

Let’s be explicit about the costs (not just the benefits) associated with outsourcing: decaying urban centers, opioid addictions and related deaths (including suicides), unemployment payments and trade adjustment assistance (typically ineffective) and retraining expenses.   When those factors are considered, what’s the true price of those outsourced “bargains”?

Let me be clear: this concern is with the behavior of the Chinese Communist Party, not with the Chinese people or Chinese-Americans. We should welcome China as an economic competitor, much as we compete with the European Union and its member states.  But China is not France.

President Trump considers Chinese president Xi Jinping his friend.  Mr. President, Xi Jinping is not your friend: he’s a fierce competitor leading a government determined to supplant Western liberal democracy with Chinese authoritarian governance.

China is the new South Africa. It’s time to be aggressive, firm, principled and unforgiving until China changes course. Let’s breach that Chinese firewall. At stake is the future of Western democracy and the liberal world order.

Charles Kolb served as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy from 1990-1992 in the George H.W. Bush White House