China's War by Other Means

China's coronavirus misdeeds are the equivalent of war, and deserve a suitably strong response.

The great German general and thinker Carl von Clausewitz once said, "War is the continuation of politics by other means."  He had observed that nations go to war to pursue the same objectives that they'd already been pursuing in other ways, but without success.

What may not be so obvious is that the opposite is equally true: nations use other means to pursue the same objectives that they'd have if they went to war.  This is particularly so today, when war is so impossibly expensive.

Consider how President Reagan won the Cold War: he did not engage in a shooting war against the Soviet Union.  Yet we rightly honor him for winning what we correctly consider to have been a war, even though it never became the world-destroying nuclear holocaust most people of the day expected.  We did a lot of more-or-less commercial trading with the Russians - we sold them perfectly good wheat to accurate measure in return for the agreed quantity of oil - but we also engaged in activities that looked like standard commercial practices but which caused the Soviets considerable economic damage.

On a different, more recent front, we spread the Stuxnet computer virus via USB sticks to destroy centrifuges the Iranians were using to purify uranium for use in nuclear bombs.  Although crafting extremely focused viruses like Stuxnet is expensive, it's cheaper than bombing and considerably more discreet.

Today, our situation with China reminds us of our Cold War with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  In the recent controversy over our coronavirus-infected aircraft carrier which is stranded on Guam, we ran into a very revealing quote that's since been purged from Google.  We don't like using quotes without citations, but we'll make an exception for this one:

We're not truly at war but we're not truly at peace either.

Obviously, given that China is a nuclear power, we'd really rather not be at actual war with them.  That isn't the only reason, of course.  Iran is not a nuclear power, at least not yet, but we'd rather not be at war with them even though their invading our embassy in 1979 was an actual act of war by any definition.

Given that the combination of Chinese lies and incompetence in dealing with bat soup flu unleashed a global catastrophe which they are now falsely blaming on us... well, that's certainly not the act of a peaceful member of the global community in good standing.  We aren't super friends with Russia either, but it's pretty unlikely they'd try to pull something of this magnitude these days, or even during the Cold War.

So, it's time to consider what can be done without reducing the world and everyone in it to their component atoms.

When we started listing common-sense measures which Republicans could take to increase individual freedom during the bat soup crisis, we had no idea that the list would be so long.  We knew that measures against China would be controversial partly because Mr. Trump was called a racist for referring to "Wuhan virus" or "Chinese virus" and for banning flights between the US and China early in the crisis, and partly because it was clear that so many Democrats had profited mightily by leveraging their political positions to get money from China.

As we see it, however, the Chinese government's actions in covering up the virus long enough for it to get beyond the point that measures against conventional epidemics would no longer work, amounts to an act of war.  Given that, it makes sense to separate the anti-China measures into a separate list of actions by which we could wage war by other means.

We're Westphalian enough to realize that all nations pursue their own national interests to whatever degree their leaders feel is needed to maintain their positions of personal power.  We also understand the very strong human tendency to cover up mistakes instead of proclaiming them to the world.  Now that we know that worldwide cases would have been cut 95% if the Chinese had told the truth three weeks earlier than other countries found out how serious bat soup flu really is, however, we feel that what the Chinese government is now known to have done crosses a line.

Although we deplore abuse of the term "war" to describe whatever a politician thinks might be worth pursuing, we feel that the term is appropriate given the number of deaths which were directly caused by Chinese failure to live up to the obligations they took on when they joined the World Health Organization.  They corrupted the WHO instead of working with it, sold medical masks which Italians had donated to the Chinese before their virus crisis back to the Italians, and shipped defective virus tests to Spain, Italy, and Germany.

We have absolutely no evidence to suggest that the Chinese unleashed this virus on the world deliberately.  Whether it was by accident or by design doesn't matter all that much going forward - "The problem isn't the crime, it's the cover-up."

We can assert that there will never be proof that the virus was released purposefully because Chinese who merely tried to tell the world about the virus have disappeared, one of whom even live-streamed his arrest.  But suppose we had unarguable proof.  Would we start a nuclear war with the Chinese in an act of revenge?  To coin another phrase, "At this point, what difference does it make?"

It's time to "unfriend" the Chinese government no matter how much it costs our Democrat politicians in foregone campaign contributions.  The trick is doing that without also erasing their Facebook page.

Whack Back at China

Mao tse Tung's army defeated Chiang Kai-shek's in 1949.  Until President Nixon "normalized" relations with China by visiting Beijing in 1972 and for some years after Mao died in 1976, China remained a poverty-stricken country with insignificant influence on world affairs because of Mao's collectivist ideology, so beloved of Bernie Sanders and the Free Lunch crowd.

The Chinese economy took off when Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping promoted the sentiment "To get rich is glorious" and let Chinese "animal spirits" loose to increase private sector revenue.  This brought the government tax revenue to fund basic social necessities such as a deep water navy, a space program, and world-class virus research labs.

President Bill Clinton pushed Congress to approve the U.S.-China trade agreement and China's entry to the WTO in 2000, saying that more trade with China would advance America's economic interests.  We plan to discuss this idea in an upcoming series.

As Foreign Policy wrote in 2014,

China is the geopolitical hinge on which war or peace in East Asia rests.

In the 6 years since then, China's influence has increased to the point that worldwide war or peace rests with them, as bat soup flu has shown beyond the shadow of any doubt.

The "cold war" we're fighting with China is as consequential as our "cold war" with Soviet Union.  It's more challenging because the Chinese have more money, more resources, and more of our politicians and media personalities hate our current President than ever opposed presidents during the Soviet cold war.

In addition, far more people have died from COVID-19 as a direct consequence of jet-propelled interaction between tens of thousands of Americans and Chinese than died in our competition with the USSR.  Regardless of whether the virus was unleashed on the world by accident or by design, we know that the Chinese government made the situation worse by covering it up and lying about it.

Researchers at the University of Southampton released a study which concluded that 95% of worldwide COVID-19 cases would have been prevented if the truth had been told three weeks earlier.  If China had opened up one week earlier, there would have been 66% fewer, while two weeks earlier notice would have led to 86% fewer cases.

It is transparently obvious to anyone not on the Chinese payroll that China is entirely to blame and ought to be liable for the monumental financial damage done to basically the entire world.  Of course, no country is going to actually write a check for such an impossibly vast amount; the only way to try to collect would be via a war, which these days is never profitable anyway.

That doesn't mean there's nothing we can do to get some of our own back.  Let's look at some constructive actions Mr. Trump could take.

Unwind Critical Medical Supply Chains

Not only do 90% of medical equipment such as gloves, masks, and hazmat protection as well as 90% of our pharmaceuticals and raw ingredients for other medicines come from China, their government has threatened to withhold medicines and supplies in our time of need.  They've also supplied a great deal of defective medical supplies to Italy, Turkey, Georgia , the Czech Republic, and Spain.

Mr. Trump should immediately use his powers under the Defense Procurement Act to force American firms to ramp up production of these critical materials.  As long as we are dependent on a hostile nation for the things that keep us alive, we are weak and in danger.  This situation is intolerable and needs to end on a critical priority basis.

Going forward, we should use whatever means are needed to make sure we make, or can make, critical supplies.  Senator Tom Cotton has introduced a bill to prohibit pharmaceutical purchases from China and to provide incentives for domestic manufacturing.  This is an excellent start.

The risk, of course, is that "Buy American" mandates will be used to increase labor costs or promote exploitative business practices.  Such laws must be structured with care.  A large part of the reason so much American manufacturing was moved overseas in the first place was because EPA regulations, OSHA, and union greed made it impossible to run a profitable manufacturing business here or maintain our infrastructure.

We aren't the only one to recognize the importance of buying from anywhere but China - the Japanese have allocated $2.2 billion of their anti-covid stimulus package to help businesses move production out of China.  It will be hard to move back to Japan because of the labor shortage caused by their low birth rate, but move it, they must.

Free the Miners - Push Back at Environmentalists

Just as Chinese firms produced around 90% of our pharmaceutical substances and medical equipment such as masks, gloves, and hazmat suits, China also produces most of the world's rare earths which are essential to our defense industries, electric motors, and to all forms of electronics.

China accounts for over 95% of the world's production which gives China as much leverage over technology as their medical products gave them power over plague fighting.  You might assume this simply means that they lucked out with where these valuable minerals happen to be, much as OPEC lucked out with respect to petroleum, but you'd be wrong.

The truth is, the name "rare earths" is somewhat misleading.  They're not actually all that rare.  It's just both difficult and messy to refine the required elements out of those earths.

It is estimated the world has 99 million tonnes of rare earth reserves, of which roughly 1/3 are located in China.  Yes, the Chinese have more than their share, but it's not like they have a monopoly.

We were concerned that American businesses might have become so hidebound by years of crushing government regulation that they might be unable to make up for the shortage of medical equipment, but they've responded magnificently.  Rare earths are another story.

Although there are plenty of rare earths in the US and Canada, new mines been blocked by years of lawsuits and other environmentalist delaying tactics.  The situation is so dire that mining companies are focusing on recycling instead of trying to open up new resources.  Recycling is a good idea, but won't fulfill increasing needs, particularly if we want millions of electric cars.

Mr. Trump has already suspended EPA and FDA regulations that were slowing our response to the virus.  He should also take this opportunity to slice through red tape to get businesses starting mining these elements which are so vital for our future.

There is absolutely nothing in nature that gives the Chinese control of these resources - it's entirely our bureaucrats and environmentalists that choose to give them this power over us.  That obstacle needs to be bulldozed immediately - figuratively we hope, but literally if need be.  Given that rare earths are required for all manner of essential electronics, it's no exaggeration to say that our national security is at stake.

Protect Our Universities

Our colleges and universities are required by law to report gifts of $250,000 or more by foreign entities, but this rule is easily avoided and seldom enforced.  The U.S. Department of Education recently identified $6.5 billion in previously undisclosed foreign funding of universities and colleges.  Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, believes that Harvard and Yale have collected billions in foreign gifts and contracts in recent years.

Does anyone believe that the ChiComs are doing this in a spirit of sweet harmony and cooperation?  Universities have a payroll to meet and once a funding stream is set up and staffed, stopping the funding is a major problem for the recipient.

Our universities are already inclined to criticize capitalism and promote collectivism.  Letting the Chinese add money to this subversion of what made America wealthy and powerful is not a good idea.  Mr. Trump should shut down all the Confucius Institutes and other Chinese-funded centers of fifth-column Communism.

Google will supply any number of articles about Chinese spying activities - we got more than 12 million hits for "Chinese arrested at airport" without quotes.  We'll mention only one which we find to be particularly troubling - it involves Harvard and Wuhan University.  Yes, that Wuhan.

The United States Department of Justice, no less, tells us that Dr. Charles Lieber, 60, Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, was arrested.  He had received more than $15,000,000 in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Defense (DOD).  His research contracts required him to report significant foreign "conflicts of interest."

Unbeknownst to Harvard University, beginning in 2011, Lieber became a "Strategic Scientist" at Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China and was a contractual participant in China's Thousand Talents Plan from in or about 2012 to 2017. ...

WUT paid Lieber $50,000 USD per month, living expenses of up to 1,000,000 Chinese Yuan (approximately $158,000 USD at the time) and awarded him more than $1.5 million to establish a research lab at WUT.

Wow!  That's more than Burisma paid Hunter Biden for his petroleum expertise.  Who knew that Harvard connections are worth more than connections to the Vice President of the United States?  There's more:

Zaosong Zheng, 30, a Chinese national, was arrested on Dec. 10, 2019, at Boston's Logan International Airport and charged by criminal complaint with attempting to smuggle 21 vials of biological research to China[emphasis added]

There's no question that the Chinese government is interested enough in biological materials to acquire them by means that violate United States law.  We need to be careful about any Chinese connections with hospitals and other research organizations as well as universities.  We had thought that allowing Chinese to study in the US would teach them the virtues of capitalism and personal freedom, but, like President Clinton's lobbying to admit China into the World Trade Organization, treating them nicely doesn't seem to have made them want to play nicely.

Protect Our Internet Infrastructure

Mr. Trump has rightly been concerned about allowing the Chinese firm Huawei to sell networking equipment in the US.  Huawei is one of the world's largest manufacturers of smartphones, routers, and other hardware needed to support the Internet and cloud computing.

Abundant evidence shows how right we are to be concerned about back doors and spy ports in anything manufactured by Huawei.  Checking their software for leaks would not be enough; we know that Chinese build back doors into hardware made or assembled in China.

An American experimenter showed that it doesn't take government resources to put leaky chips in routers - one individual did it for $200 for the first router.  Once he had the setup, he could compromise more routers for a few dollars each.  A large firm or government could do this far more subtly.

Mr. Trump is not alone in worrying about Huawei.  Although Britain had decided to allow Huawei to sell communications equipment in England, the Daily Mail reports that the government is now considering banning Huawei from Britain, partly due to the risks of espionage and partly because of Chinese behavior with respect to the virus.

They are furious over China's campaign of misinformation, attempts to exploit the pandemic for economic gain and atrocious animal rights record.

No nation should rely on the Chinese to supply anything important to their economy.  Mr. Trump must ensure that whatever bans are put in place against Chinese pharmaceuticals are extended to Chinese integrated circuits and computer boards.  It's fine to buy stuff from China that we don't actually need, like Happy Meal toys or "Hillary for President" T-shirts; anything more important must be sourced elsewhere.

Support the Taiwanese

After Mao won the Chinese civil war in 1949, Chiang and the remnants of his defeated Nationalist army moved to Taiwan and took over.  Taiwan had been a province of China.  Chiang asserted that he and his forces represented the legitimate government of all China.  America recognized his government as opposed to Mao's and gave Chiang's government the Chinese seat at the UN for several decades; eventually, reality intervened, and that seat was lost to the mainland in 1971.

Chiang's party had had legislature seats for all Chinese provinces, including the mainland ones controlled by the Communists.  They couldn't hold elections there, obviously, so his cronies were awarded them.  These legislators outvoted legislators representing the province of Taiwan that was all they actually governed, so the island became a one-party dictatorship like the mainland - only neither quite so deadly, nor so permanently.

During their retreat, Chiang fortified Quemoy and Matsu, two "offshore islands" which were much closer to the Chinese mainland than to Taiwan.  What to do about these "offshore islands" was a major issue during the 1960 presidential campaign which ended up putting JFK in the White House.

As the 1970's developed, the question of how strongly the US should support Taiwan has vexed every administration.  The CPP's lies about the virus have damaged American sufficiently that this should no longer be a question - we should support Taiwan.  The Nationalist dictatorship ended decades ago, and Taiwan is now a democracy in good standing.

It's not an accident that Taiwan was sounding alarms about the coronavirus while the Chinese were busy lying about it with the support of their puppets in the WHO.  Legislation is sensibly moving through Congress to defund the untrustworthy WHO; at a minimum, making Taiwan a full voting member should be another hard requirement before they see another dime from us.

Mr. Trump has often expressed his wish to bring American soldiers home from far-flung posts that aren't really part of our national interest.  Being the world's cop has caused us a great many problems, as well as being a fantastic burden on the taxpayer.  The last thing we need is to pay for yet another army in yet another place with a target on their backs.

But, it might not be a bad idea to establish a small American military base in Taiwan to let the Chinese know that we take our Taiwanese allies seriously.  The base on Okinawa, for instance, has led to unreasonable strife between us and our very close allies the Japanese, because Okinawa is a small island and Japan is crowded.  Taiwan is much larger than Okinawa, so perhaps the base could be moved, making both our allies happy and suitably annoying the Red Chinese.

Take Back Our Dollars

American Greatness puts the worldwide cost of China's lies which facilitated the spread of COVID-19 at many trillions of dollars.

It is well established that the CCP tried to conceal the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, ... It also is well established that the CCP knowingly allowed thousands of potentially infected Chinese citizens to travel to numerous overseas destinations thereby putting billions of people worldwide at risk of contracting a highly contagious and deadly virus. ...

Should the 145 affected nations simply "write it off"-as many governments did in the wake of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) pandemic that also originated in China?  [emphasis in the original]

Or should this be an occasion for the world community collectively to say "enough is enough" and require China to make restitution for its reckless and ruthless behavior?

Nobody believes that the Chinese will willingly write checks to atone for the damage they've caused, but we could take advantage of the old saying, "Owe a million, you have a problem.  Owe a trillion, they have a problem."

Roughly $1.1 trillion of the U.S. national debt is owed to China. The total worldwide debt to China is estimated in excess of $5 trillion, according to the Harvard Business Review. Cancellation of these debts also would save many billions of dollars in annual interest payments to China.

Would be getting hit by a 6-trillion-dollar stick get the Chinese government's attention?  Or are they so determined to achieve total world domination that it wouldn't matter to them?  Since just about every major country in the world owes money to China, this would be most effective if done all at once, together, in a peaceful but effective venting of the world's righteous fury at China's actions.

Time to find out if there's anything, short of war, that can make the Chinese government change its ways.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments

The 6-7 trillion that the world owes China is probably a low estimate given their stealing of technology. The world could call it even and deny debts due to the Wuhan virus.That figure would get their attention but you had best have your guns loaded. It could be a bloodbath but it might be worth it. It would cost us most as a nation since we would be the their main target. Is it worth the cost in blood and money?
Another avenue would be to cease trading with China and encourage our partners to also stop trading with them. There wouldn't be many countries that would quit in my estimation but as long as we have the "King Dollar" we could call a lot of shots. We would need at least 80% of the Western cultured nations to be on board for this to be successful. The rest of the countries are ruled by dictators or strong men and will sell out to the highest bidder. It is a question that needs answering but I see no easy answer. Bassboat

April 15, 2020 9:19 PM

Well reasoned, as always. You outline a task of monumental effort and epic consequence. In all seriousness, I fail to see the likes of Biden and Warren/ Klobuchar/ Harris being up to the challange, or even attempting it. They would never even get to the point of discussing deregultion, let alone any other measures designed to bring manufacturing home.
I believe you've put up a signpost at a world changing fork in the road.
As always, we all thank you for your very hard work and research efforts.

April 16, 2020 9:56 AM

The Pentagon is urging suppliers to move mineral extraction out of China

a U.S.-based rare-earth materials mining company, MP Materials, was granted a U.S. Department of Defense contract to begin the process of bringing the mining of these elements back to the U.S. and away from China, which had been producing roughly 80% of the world’s supply. These elements are crucial in the development of technological products, notably in high-tech security and defense systems, and the move to bring the supply chain home is a hallmark of a great exodus of business and manufacturing out of mainland China, and not just by the U.S.

A new report by global manufacturing consulting firm Kearney indicates U.S. companies had already began leaving China during the trade war between the two nations that began in 2019, and that chances are good even more will leave due to the pandemic that originated in Wuhan.

The Kearney report notes a “dramatic reversal” in a trend over the last five years as U.S. manufacturing began to grow relative to manufacturing exports from Asian countries, with imports from China hit particularly hard.

April 25, 2020 5:14 PM
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