By PHILIP J CUNNINGHAM
Blaming China for the unforced eras of the US government is not classy, but it is a classic distraction technique. The Trump administration has been self-centered, clumsy and careless in responding to the Coronavirus pandemic. Even with the significant lead time gained from watching the viral disease ravage Wuhan months before American cities were similarly stricken, the US government dithered. Trump has shown himself indifferent to unprecedented suffering.
The White House response has been not only been slow, doltish and truculent, but outright counterproductive. Dismissive of experts to the point of being anti-science, uncooperative with local leaders to the point of stoking regional division, Trump’s scatter-brained response to the pandemic has been indefensible.
“Don’t defend Trump…attack China,” urges an internal memo distributed to US Republicans running for election. “Push for sanctions on China for its role in spreading this pandemic.”
This is the advice of the "Corona Big Book" --the brainchild of Brett O’Donnell, a Machiavellian strategic advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. Released on April 17, 2020, the toxic talking points have infected Fox News, Sunday talk shows, Senator Cotton’s press releases, state department policy pronouncements and presidential tweets.
“Attack China” is a dangerous man-made viral campaign leaked from an unregulated political laboratory that puts partisan politics above domestic well-being and international peace. The hatred and prejudice implicit in the “Corona Big Book” constitute a flagrant neo-McCarthyism. Innuendo, fabrications and scare tactics are spoon-fed to Republicans seeking to extend their tenuous grip on power.
Enter Mike Pompeo, provincial congressman, former spy chief and now the nation’s foremost diplomat who openly admits that “lying, cheating, and stealing” are integral tools of statecraft.
Trump’s recent outburst of intemperate comments about China, including his provocative use of the derogatory term “China virus” and verbal digs blaming China for letting it “out” of the lab echo the “big book” line coming from Pompeo’s office.
But Pompeo has gotten tangled up in a web of his own lies, contradicting himself in TV interviews, saying the virus was from a lab but not from a lab, man-made but not man-made, and then petulantly claiming that “China has a history of infecting the world and they have a history of running substandard laboratories.”
Trump’s China “experts” Michael Pillsbury, Peter Navarro and Matt Pottinger are working in parallel with Pompeo to punish, humiliate and isolate the very country they are allegedly expert in. Their bigoted and incendiary anti-China rhetoric puts ordinary Asian Americans at risk. Pillsbury alludes to inscrutably secret Chinese plans while Navarro claims on TV that the two countries are at war because Shanghai Disneyland is now open and the one near his home in Anaheim is closed. Trump abruptly ends a White House news conference, refusing to answer the question of a Chinese-American journalist with a withering put-down, telling her to “ask China.”
The blanket stigmatization of China shows signs of interagency coordination, signaling a shift in Trump foreign policy, which, until recently, had been obsessed mostly with trade matters.
Aware that relentlessly hitting on China has distinct racial overtones, especially when coming from a cabal of bullies and powerful white men, Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger was trotted out to give a short video presentation in Chinese about the May 4 tradition. Given his previous experience in China as a journalist, he does a competent job of reading Romanized mandarin for the camera, but he has an ax to grind and is no expert in history.
On the sidelines, there is Trump whisperer Steve Bannon, who has paired up with anti-Beijing tycoon on-the-run, Guo Wengui, to stir trouble. Bannon was an early advocate of the conspiratorial idea that Covid-19, which he calls the “CCP Virus,” is war by other means.
Another fount of support for a harsh policy on China is right-wing cult Falun Gong, which publishes the Epoch Times with the semi-clandestine support of the US government. The cult promotes a pro-Trump political line that is in almost total alignment with Pompeo’s crusade against China, except, perhaps, for its eccentric opposition to interracial dating and homosexuality.
Pompeo’s Chinese counterparts have largely shown restraint in the face of US provocation and have made reasonable pleas to cool the hot rhetoric. Ambassador Cui Tiankai firmly maintains that disputes about the origin and spread of the virus are best left to scientists.
The execrable election-year blame game in the US should be exposed for what it is—a sordid spectacle designed to divide and conquer a confused electorate. Pompeo’s neo-know-nothing “attack China” campaign is a cheap provocation based on half-truths, innuendo and lies, a contagion of bad ideas that is best contained before it spirals out of control.