Attacking China to win the White House
First Voice

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It doesn't take a memo to notice that attacking China has become the way out of COVID-19 for the current U.S. administration. President Donald Trump, his current and former officials and the Republican Party at large have been unloading their criticism against China since the virus outbreak has spread beyond their control on U.S. soil.

But turning this into an official campaign strategy is something new. On April 24, POLITICO reported that the National Republican Senatorial Committee distributed a "detailed, 57-page memo…advising GOP candidates to address the coronavirus crisis by aggressively attacking China." It is said that the memo contains tactics and instructions that focus on three lines of attack: China covered up COVID-19, Democrats are soft on China and the Republicans will sanction China for letting the pandemic getting out of control.

Well, at least they cannot say their actions and rhetoric aren't politically motivated now.

It has to be admitted that, under the current political climate in the U.S., it is a logical campaign strategy. A recent opinion poll conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that 66 percent of the U.S. general public view China unfavorably with 62 percent believing that China is a major threat to the U.S. And as rare as bipartisanship is, China's unfavorability has risen in both political parties. It is said that this is China's highest unfavorability in the U.S. since the Pew Research Center started surveying China's favorability 15 years ago.

A screenshot of the POLITICO report about the Republican Party's memo. /POLITICO

A screenshot of the POLITICO report about the Republican Party's memo. /POLITICO

For an administration with consistent low favorability and who tries to win an election in the middle of a national crisis, creating an enemy to absorb the public's anger at least takes some heat off of them. Especially considering the fact that the administration is led by someone who's a gaffe machine and who only couple of days earlier suggested injecting disinfectants and UV lights into the body to cure the virus, it becomes all the more natural to shift the public's attention onto someone else. "Don't defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban – attack China," the memo says.

Orin Kerr, law professor at the University of California, Berkley, commented on Twitter that this strategy reveals that the White House and Republicans "have nothing to say about the major crisis of our time." And he is right. Republicans are not looking for something to say, they are simply looking for a way out.

Wang Yong, professor at the School of International Studies at the Peking University, says that over the past several years, despite all the political back-and-forth, Democrats and Republicans' political power are roughly balanced. The pandemic will be the straw that tips the balance. For Democrats, Trump's mismanagement and mistakes in handling COVID-19 is going to be his greatest vulnerability. And this new memo is the proof that the core leadership of the Republican Party has reached a consensus. By attacking China, they hope to deflect any of Trump's faults and protect their position in the coming election.

However, this doesn't mean that the Democrats are innocent. The Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, former vice president Joe Biden has accused Trump been weak on China and having "rolled over for the Chinese." This who's-tougher-on-China battle between the two candidates, according to Professor Wang, would beyond a doubt strained the already tensed China-U.S. relationship even further. And it is going to make China's relationship with international institutions more difficult to manage.

But the road to power doesn't seem to allow these politicians to factor in national interests or global public health safety. The White House is their ultimate prize. And it looks like it is already decided that China would be the stepping stone.

Script writer: Huang Jiyuan

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