Last year, the popular HBO miniseries “Chernobyl,” which recounted the eponymous 1986 nuclear disaster in Soviet Ukraine, enthralled audiences across America. The docudrama unsparingly portrayed the obfuscation and dissembling that characterized the Soviet Communist Party’s response in the aftermath of the meltdown. In a deceitful attempt to save face before domestic and international audiences, the Soviet politburo risked untold lives.
Fast-forward to 2020. As the coronavirus pandemic grips the world, we are all paying the price for the Communist Party of China’s own Chernobyl. The only difference is that the ChiComs’ Chernobyl is on a global scale.
Start with the fact that the Chinese Communist Party was clearly warned of the dangers of continually operating its “wet markets,” believed to be the virus’s zoonotic provenance. In these wet markets, exotic animals, to which some in China ascribe superstitious belief, are bartered like routine commodities. But these wet markets also previously brought onto the world SARS, bird flu, Asian flu and swine fever. Chinese scientists had warned the Beijing politburo that continuing to operate the wet markets could easily lead to another epidemiological outbreak — quite possibly a novel strain of coronavirus. Beijing paid no heed.
Failing to shut down the wet markets is bad enough. But even more disastrous was the Chinese Communist Party’s initial handling of the metastasizing situation in and around Wuhan. The Chinese government arrested and silenced scientists, brutally suppressed truth-telling media coverage, and fabricated statistics for the World Health Organization to paint a rosier picture than the facts demonstrated. Overall, one popular study from Britain’s University of Southampton concluded that proper early-stage Chinese government intervention might have reduced the virus’s spread by as much as 95%. As Axios succinctly summarized, the Chinese Communist Party’s “early actions led to the virus spreading around the globe.”
Origin tales and blame games aside, we are in the throes of the coronavirus fight. For the time being, it is appropriate to focus on defeating this invisible and lethal enemy. But when we prevail on the other side, the United States must lead a global effort to punish the Chinese Communist Party for the Chernobyl that it has unleashed upon an unsuspecting world.
At this point, even the most doctrinaire free traders must recognize that liberalizing economic relations with China has had harmful consequences. Our liberalized economic supply chains have endangered us all by allowing our nonpareil geopolitical foe to control our pharmaceuticals, telecommunication infrastructure and even children’s toys. Further, those whose fervent ideological predispositions assured them of a self-evident slide from economic liberalization to political liberalization are now belied by the reality that is the world’s foremost authoritarian police state.
Free trade absolutists and those who aided China’s bid to join the World Trade Organization ought to reassess their dogmatic prioritization of cheaper goods for consumers over our compelling national interests. America must do its best to coordinate the global imposition of crippling tariffs and mass sanctions upon this destructive foe. It is time to both fully divest from China and to affirmatively punish the ChiComs for their coronavirus recklessness.
Economics aside, China must pay a steep political price. Fully severing diplomatic relations and encouraging our allies to join us in shuttering embassies in China is likely a step too far. But intermediate measures can, and should, be taken to isolate China on the world stage. Multilateral organizations to which China is a party, such as the G-20, should internally censure China and, ideally, revoke its membership. Far-fetched though it may be, the United States should at least symbolically float the idea that China have its United Nations Security Council permanent member status rescinded. And crucially, the United States must also lead a coordinated effort among our allies to further ramp up naval asset deployment to the East and South China Seas. There is ultimately no power quite like hard power.
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster transpired at the tail end of the Soviet Union’s lifespan. In the years ahead, America must do its best to ensure the ChiComs suffer the same fate as the Soviets.