- - Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Thursday’s breaking news regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to pull approvals for dozens of mask makers in China proves the point: China must now be seen as an adversary.

For half a century, the American establishment has seen China as a partner on the international stage. Some Americans looked at China and saw only the size of its potential market for American goods; others looked at China and saw it as a strategic linchpin in the Cold War against the Soviet Union; still others saw a vast manufacturing plant with a low-paid workforce that could be used to produce “American” goods inexpensively.

Presidents and administrations both Democratic and Republican saw China as a partner, and worked regularly to deepen the ties that bound the two countries, even as a relatively small number of us voiced concerns over what we saw as the clear national security threat posed by the relationship.

That changed in the fall of 2018, when President Trump — whose most consistent policy position over the last three decades has been his regular and loud warning about the nature of the U.S.-China relationship — ordered a new strategic positioning for the United States vis-a-vis China.

Mr. Trump’s second national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, explained the policy change simply: “We had undervalued the degree to which ideology drives the Chinese Communist Party … As a result, we had indulged in this conceit over the years that we could change China by welcoming China into the international order. It was pretty obvious by 2017 that that didn’t work.”

The Trump administration moved to review policies all over the board, to the point where even Education Secretary Betsy DeVos got into the act, ordering reviews that led to revelations regarding $6.5 billion in previously unreported foreign financing.

Nevertheless, elements of the American establishment continued to press for policies favorable toward China. They caterwauled when Mr. Trump imposed tariffs on Chinese imports, and worked to create and polish the impression that China was our friend — after all, hadn’t Xi Jinping been helpful in bringing North Korea to the negotiating table? With so much business at stake — last year’s trade flow between China and the United States was valued at almost $560 billion — they simply could not abide the Trump administration’s view that China was actually an adversary.

But then the COVID-19 crisis happened. The war over a definition — is China a “partner” or an “adversary” — has now come to an end.

The Chinese Communist Party’s behavior in the coronavirus crisis has made clear that China is no “partner” to the United States. China, clearly, is an adversary— and, going forward, the United States must treat it as such, across the entire spectrum of policy.

For now, though, let’s just focus on one aspect of the relationship — the threat posed by China’s virtual chokehold on American medical supplies. Once we opened up free trade with China in the early 2000s, we began shifting production from the United States to China. Our last aspirin manufacturing facility closed down in 2002, as did our last vitamin C plant. Our last penicillin plant closed in 2004. Chinese manufacturers, subsidized by their government, picked up the slack.

A huge percent of the medical supplies we use in America, from drugs to personal protective equipment (PPE0, is now manufactured in China. While the FDA says it cannot tell for sure just how dependent the United States is on its Chinese suppliers for finished pharmaceuticals, the simple fact that we are dependent at all is cause for concern.

China could sell us bad drugs, as happened in 2018, when one of China’s largest domestic vaccine producers sold at least a quarter million bad doses of vaccine for tetanus, whooping cough and diphtheria. Or China could sell us drugs with no drugs inside them at all. Or China could cut off our supply chain entirely and just tell us to go pound sand, as the CCP threatened to do in March, when a spokesman claimed that China could impose export controls that would plunge the United States into “the mighty sea of coronavirus.”

During this coronavirus crisis, it has become clear that China didn’t share with the rest of the world all that the Chinese Communist Party leadership knew about the coronavirus. And it is becoming increasingly clear that the CCP made the decision not to share what it knew at least in part so that it could have a head start on gathering as much PPE as it could — first, so the CCP could protect its own health care workers as they dealt with the coronavirus, and, second, so the CCP could profit from reselling the PPE to other countries as their need for it was reduced.

Clearly, the time has come to adjust U.S. policy to reflect the undeniable fact that China, by word and deed, must now be considered a dangerous adversary.

• Jenny Beth Martin is honorary chairman of Tea Party Patriots Action.

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