The Hindu Editorials : The common factor: On China in U.S. politics


China is now a dominant subject in U.S. politics as the election draws closer

President Donald Trump is entering deeper into a political quagmire (swamp) on three related fronts: America’s death toll from COVID-19 is perilously close to the psychologically important mark of 100,000; the economy looks to be on the verge of slipping into a deep recession (downturn), if not outright depression, in the wake of the pandemic impact across sectors; and his management of both the crises is facing acerbic criticism from Democrats even as the 2020 U.S. presidential election draws closer. There is one factor that links all three political hazards he is facing — China. On the pandemic front, Mr. Trump has regularly tweeted to the effect that the novel coronavirus ought to be called the “China virus” and his top officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have made unsubstantiated suggestions that the virus may have leaked ((of secret information) made public) out of a Wuhan laboratory. While Mr. Trump appeared relatively more mollified after a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping in late March, he reverted to name-calling a few weeks thereafter. Beijing meanwhile has concertedly pushed a campaign around the message that the virus — contrary to any publicly verified evidence — originated outside China. On the economic front, the savage (ferocious) trade war that roiled global markets through most of 2019 appeared to be near a resolution when Washington and Beijing inked the ‘phase one’ pact for lower tariffs and trade concessions this January. The pandemic appears to have set that process back considerably: neither side will be in the mood to make concessions given that tens of millions of jobs have been lost in the U.S. and China is far from an economic recovery.

It is however the third factor, the presidential poll in November, that could most significantly alter the landscape of conflict-ridden bilateral ties. Presumptive Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden has for several months launched scathing (devastating) attacks on Mr. Trump’s bungling in the early phases of viral transmission, including repeated messaging that the President was slow to respond to warning signs from Wuhan and reluctant to lock down the U.S. to enforce physical distancing. Pro-Trump campaign organisations have in turn taken to labelling Mr. Biden, “Beijing Biden”, which gives Democrats the tough choice of either attacking or defending China. If Mr. Biden does either, he will open himself up to political attacks. There is, however, a third way. If he steps back from the brink of what some analysts are describing as the potential “New Cold War”, based on the understanding that neither side would stand to gain from the cumulative tally of economic and geopolitical conflict (dispute), he may not only avert a torrid clash between the two nations, but in the process he might win over economically insecure, independent and undecided voters across the U.S., who are decisively important to secure an election victory. Not only the U.S. and China, but the world at large, might stand to gain if he did that.


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