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Republicans blasting China forget that the GOP enabled Beijing’s rise

As a deadly pandemic wreaks havoc in an election year, Republicans are leveling relentless attacks against China. To be sure, Beijing’s initial response to the coronavirus outbreak was littered with errors, egregious injustices and conspiracy-mongering.

But the GOP’s tough talk on China – which, ironically, also strays into conspiracy theory territory – marks the culmination of a particularly stark turnaround. After all, Republicans eagerly enabled China’s meteoric ascent from a sleepy, insular country to the world’s second-largest economy.

Time for a quick history lesson. Throughout the 20th century, China was a poor, agricultural country. In 1978, sweeping economic reforms set China on a path of rapid urbanization. The mass migration of millions of people from China’s rural hinterlands to mega-cities changed the country at a stunning pace.

Indeed, in the span of a few short decades, a vast pool of inexpensive, newly-urbanized labor transformed China from an impoverished, rural economy into a manufacturing juggernaut.

But China’s enormous capacity to build and make things on the cheap needed an equally massive market to buy its products. Enter Republicans and corporate America who, along with a handful of “centrist” Democrats, eagerly handed an enormous strategic gift to Beijing.

Beginning in 2000, China’s economic growth began to skyrocket. Beyond its entry into the World Trade Organization, much of China’s rapid expansion over the last two decades can be traced to a single act of Congress.

In a seminal vote, the United States normalized trade with Beijing, opening the floodgates to the mass outsourcing of well-paying American manufacturing jobs to China. Indeed, the astounding, post-2000 decline in U.S. manufacturing employment fits neatly with a surge in cheap Chinese imports around the same time.

A whopping 75 percent of House Republicans voted in favor of shipping American jobs to China. Democrats, wary of the myriad economic, environmental and labor repercussions of normalizing trade with China, rebuked a “centrist” president and voted against the measure by a two-to-three margin.

A year later, George W. Bush formalized Congress’s vote, granting preferential trade status to China.

Republicans, in short, enabled Beijing’s astounding economic and military rise by swapping millions of good-paying American jobs for cheap Chinese imports. But the GOP’s overwhelming vote in favor of unfettered trade with China came at a staggering cost.

Beginning in the 2000s, the United States witnessed an alarming increase in so-called “deaths of despair.” Driven largely by opioid overdoses, alcohol abuse and suicide, white, blue-collar Americans – Trump’s base – began dying at shocking rates. While an increasing mortality rate is unheard of in first-world countries, several studies have directly linked trade-inflicted manufacturing job losses to the opioid-fueled “deaths of despair” devastating America.

In other words, the GOP’s eagerness to inflate corporate and shareholder profit via cheap, overseas labor has decimated countless American families and communities. But this did not start with Republicans’ vote to normalize trade with China. NAFTA, for example, was negotiated by the first Bush administration, passed Congress with overwhelming GOP support and fulfilled Ronald Reagan’s “vision.”

More broadly, four decades of post-Reagan Republican ideology have gutted America’s middle class. As the United States confronts a historic pandemic, startling images of miles upon miles of cars – each representing an American family – awaiting supplies at overwhelmed food banks expose this dangerous and depressing reality.

Such visceral scenes of poverty – unheard of among the United States’s first-world allies – should be equally unfathomable in a country with America’s immense wealth and capacity for broadly-shared prosperity. Mass food insecurity is not the hallmark of a great nation.

Ultimately, the flaws in China’s early response to this devastating pandemic must be thoroughly investigated. But instead of distracting Americans to protect a failed president, Republicans would be wise to reflect on the immensely damaging long-term repercussions of their ideology and policies. A healthy dose of moral, patriotic soul-searching is long overdue.

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.

Tags China Republican Party Rise of China Trade with China WTO

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