The 1980s novel and movie “The War of the Roses” recounted an ugly divorce between two apparently loving partners in an affluent household, a seemingly perfect marriage.
Husband Oliver Rose has become controlling and self-centered. His wife, Barbara, resents his thuggish behavior, but sees no way out. Then Oliver lands in the emergency room with heart attack symptoms. Barbara, amid her shock and grief, takes stock of her own growing catering business and realizes that she can thrive without Oliver. Oliver fully recovers and returns home expecting to resume life as before, but finds the door is locked. It’s over. Barbara knows what Oliver is, she knows she can live without him and nothing Oliver does changes Barbara’s mind.
The 2019 new coronavirus (nCoV) originating in the geographic center of the People’s Republic of China breaks our hearts for the suffering of the Chinese people. We grieve over imagery and reports of corpses in streets and hospital corridors, suicides by despondent untreated victims, an inadequate medical system, and revealed Chinese Communist Party (CCP) incompetence and corruption.
Despair has overcome a “second tier” Chinese city with a population larger than any first tier U.S. city and suffering a catastrophe potentially larger than 9/11.
Other nations are concerned about their own well-being and are taking stock of economic consequences as they close potential vectors of the disease emanating from China. Like Barbara Rose, Western nations are also reconsidering their relationship with the PRC after nCoV.
The integration of the U.S. and Chinese economies — “Chimerica” in the 2006 formulation of Niall Ferguson and Moritz Shularick — has come to resemble an intolerable marriage. The United States thought it was partnering with China, but found itself hooked up with the controlling and expansionist CCP, not at all the same thing.
Xi Jinping’s dictatorship thieves Western intellectual property, invades its universities with propaganda institutions and coercively attempts to censor the free speech of Westerners from corporate leaders to sports figures to cartoonists. The West endured years of Beijing’s promises to change; “baby give me one more chance.”
Developed nations were already learning they can live without the CCP in their economies. The 2015 stock market crash in China and only China annihilated narratives that Western and Chinese stock markets are inextricably linked. Beijing has been unable to manipulate the United States using its holding of Treasuries as a lever, if anything damaging itself more for its efforts. Manufacturers are working through the issues of establishing supply lines outside of China.
Western corporate leaders find it difficult to rationalize dependence on a country with a legal system politicized when not corrupted, in an economy suffering from capricious property rights and thuggish local authorities. Western political leaders can’t suffer China’s developmental policies designed to steal business models and intellectual property and transfer them to Chinese domestic competitors.
It doesn’t help that Beijing invested enormous national treasure into a military purpose-built to drive the West out of Asia and destroy U.S. armed forces while expanding at the expense of America’s Asian allies and partners. It is unfortunate that Beijing was not as attentive or generous in building a world-class public health system as it has been to building world-leading arsenals of rockets, warships, satellites and offshore naval air stations.
America’s grievances in its Chimerica marriage have been building for decades, and Beijing has been indifferent to pleas to change, to respect international norms, to eschew coercive expansionism and to stop filching the fruits of innovation. The CCP’s response has been to fabricate mythological histories to justify expansionism and demand that others accept them. The CCP saw the West’s attempts to welcome it into the community of advanced economies and normalize its behavior as attacks on the CCP’s dictatorship and set out instead to bend international rule sets to its interests.
In coming years when nCoV is behind us, and it will be behind us, its greatest lasting impact may be that it was the moment when the West realized it can live without the CCP in its house. China will soon fully recover and expect to resume life as before, but its relationship with the West may be over. It will come back but find doors locked. The advanced democracies know what the CCP is, know they can live without it, and nothing Beijing does may change their minds.
The separation of Chimerica need not be as destructive as Barbara and Oliver’s divorce in “The War of the Roses.”
• Bernard Moreland is a civilian employee of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. He formerly served as the U.S. Coast Guard Liaison Officer to China. These are his views and were not coordinated with the U.S. government.