How the 2020 Election Became a Referendum on China

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

A number of events will play out in the coming months. The first are attempts by countries to reduce the Chinese role in their supply chain. Second are global efforts to reopen domestic economies. Third is the political infighting caused by need to blame someone for the effects of the coronavirus.


Unfettered trade with China, once seen as the cornerstone of international peace and prosperity, has now become a national security liability. Countries that fear Beijing are opening the distance. “Japan identified 518 of its roughly 3,800 listed firms as having operations core to national security, making them targets for stringent regulations, a list released by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) showed.”

Some analysts say the revised law reflects Tokyo’s concern over China’s growing influence in industries such as defence, running the risk of leaks of confidential information and outflows of key technology.

But China won’t give up its formerly dominant supply chain position without a fight. Beijing has been quick to reopen even as Western politicians debate over whether it is safe to emerge from lockdown. “Analysts at Morgan Stanley suggest businesses are unlikely to take the opportunity to tilt parts of their manufacturing operations away from China, at least for now. They said cash-starved companies currently lack the funds to invest in new operations and tinker with existing supply chains. At the same time, Chinese assembly lines have been swift to bounce back, even as other economies remain in lockdown.”

[Analyst Katy Huberty] did not preclude the possibility of some parts of the supply chain moving outside of the country dubbed the “factory of the world,” but added businesses were unlikely to take steps anytime soon.

China’s efforts are being helped by policies that make it hard to reopen, as exemplified by Tesla’s inability to restart in locked down Alameda. Elon Musk threatened to take his factory out of California unless he could make cars again. Musk tweeted:


Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately. The unelected & ignorant “Interim Health Officer” of Alameda is acting contrary to the Governor, the President, our Constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense!

Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately. If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependen on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA.

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez majestically responded: “f*ck Elon Musk … the deaths from Covid-19 in California are disproportionately Latino. Our communities have been the hardest hit. By far. Maybe that’s why we take the public health officials’ warning and directions so seriously.”

Companies are facing political risk whether they stay in China or reshore in the U.S. The longer the lockdown lasts the harder it becomes to leave China. New York declared it had no alternative but to stay locked down because it has shut things down for so long it lacks the money to reopen.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that the state has a $13-billion debt, created in large part by the loss of tax revenue since the novel coronavirus outbreak shut down the economy, an amount that makes an eventual reopening impossible without federal aid.

Eventually time may become Beijing’s friend. Just as the supply chain issue has segued into workplace reopening controversies, so have both fed into the coming presidential election. China has made itself a political issue in the 2020 election. “China says recent accusations by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump that the Covid-19 pandemic originated in a lab in Wuhan are a political strategy for Republicans ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Speaking at a regular press briefing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying” donned the crown of martyrdom.


“We urge the US to stop spreading disinformation or misleading the international community. It should deal with its own problems and deal with the pandemic at home. I believe the strategy of the Republicans in their election shows that all too clear, and now we are fed up with such tricks.”
“Mr Pompeo cannot present any evidence because he has not got any, this matter should be handled by scientists and not politicians out of their domestic political needs,” Hua added.

By turning 2020 into a referendum on Trump-to-blame-not-China, the CCP may put Biden in an awkward position because it’s a Democratic article of faith that the Donald is always to blame. A 2020 “China election” would vex allies because even those with no affection for Trump cannot afford to see China win.

The adage “take the high ground” applies to politics and it’s puzzling why the Democrats didn’t take “Reshore Hill” and become the champion of returning jobs to America before Trump did. Instead, reflex pushed them into instinctive opposition, tending to disculpate China and demand even longer lockdowns, even to their potential detriment. Seeing the danger, Rachel Esplin Odell and Stephen Wertheim ask in the New York Times: Can the Democrats Avoid Trump’s China Trap?

Seizing on a grain of truth — China, at a minimum, covered up evidence of the outbreak and was too slow in sharing complete information with international health authorities — Mr. Trump seeks to avoid responsibility for a pandemic that the White House was slower still to take seriously. Even if it walks back its most extravagant claims, the administration could acquire a cudgel for the November election. The largest pro-Trump PAC is already calling Joe Biden “Beijing Biden,” laying a trap for him to either defend China or bash it harder than Mr. Trump. Either way suits the president.


The answer: “probably not.” Part of the reason for this puzzling advance into the trap is the Democratic Party hasn’t fully recovered from its 2016 defeat. It remains deeply divided into its traditional and radical left wings and is steaming in circles, its rudder jammed hard to port. Joe Biden is a placeholder for a consensus that’s not there. And into this vacancy the former vice president becomes vulnerable to being set up as “Beijing Biden.”

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