Arthur Herman: US coronavirus lockdown — China seizes chance to fulfill these global ambitions

Our current lockdown strategy may or may not defeat the coronavirus. But the Chinese clearly see it as a big win for them.

China already feels it’s stolen a march on us by getting its economy back up and running as early as March. The truth is, the longer America’s lockdown drags on, the better it gets for China. Our blue-state governors and the Trump-hating media have propelled the perception that we are socially and economically paralyzed by COVID-19. That has clearly emboldened Beijing to aggressively push its agenda for becoming the new superpower Colossus bestriding the world.

One obvious sign of this has been Beijing’s renewal of its effort to bring Hong Kong to heel with the security law that prompted demonstrations in the streets and international outrage just a year ago. President Xi Jinping and his Communist cohorts are counting on our distraction with the COVID pandemic to prevent us from lending effective support for the protesters fighting Beijing’s ever-increasing iron grip.

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Beijing has also been stepping up pressure on nearby Taiwan, with bombers buzzing the median line between the two countries in the Taiwan Straits, while its catspaw the WHO has blocked Taiwan’s effort to share its successful anti-COVID best practices with the rest of the world.

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In the South China Sea, we’ve seen a bold increase in Chinese intimidation tactics against the other countries who have claims to that strategically important seaway. A Chinese military vessel recently rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat, while other Chinese ships have harassed our destroyers USS Barry and Bunker Hill.

The fact that the USS Theodore Roosevelt had to cut short its presence there due to the coronavirus outbreak has also played into Beijing’s hands (although Pentagon officials say the aircraft carrier will return to the South China Sea very soon).

Meanwhile, Huawei, China’s stalking horse for control of the future of 5G wireless technology, has launched a charm offensive in the wake of the COVID-19, by associating itself with efforts to ship medical supplies to countries stricken by the deadly virus — the virus China let spread beyond its borders without warning, killing more than 100,000 Americans.

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What’s going on here? Clearly China is taking advantage of America’s COVID distraction and lockdown, especially as it unfolds in economically significant states like California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. Their governors’ determination to drag out the lockdown and the loss of jobs and economic opportunity as long as possible, is only grist for Beijing’s effort to portray America as a declining power.

The protracted week of riots and looting has played directly into China’s hands, as well. It helps China to portray America as a country in decline, and to fan anti-American feeling. The Global Times asked on Twitter if American police are “Peacekeepers or mass murderers?” The state-controlled news Xinhua republished a New York Times article supporting the rioters—while the government in Beijing is using the disorder here to rationalize its crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement.

Between lockdown and riots, the liberal media and social media haven’t helped. For 10 straight weeks, they have pushed the narrative that America is on the brink of societal and economic chaos; that we are trapped with an unemployment rate higher than during the Great Depression; and that lockdown is the only alternative to massive illness and death — even that we have to brace ourselves for a “second wave” this autumn. Chinese state media organ The Global Times has even circulated a story that Harvard researchers claim the lockdown needs to continue until 2022.

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From Hong Kong to the WHO and the South China Sea, Chinese leaders clearly feel like winners in the geopolitical competition with the United States. They would love to see the world perceive the COVID-19 crisis as a grim benchmark in America’s eclipse as a superpower.

Whether they are right or not, depends on how quickly we get our economy back on its feet — and how robustly we respond to Beijing’s macroaggressions around the world. Right now, getting America back to work isn’t just good economics; it’s going to be vital to the survival of freedom around the world.

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