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This is not the China debate the US needs


Elections are a democracy’s way of deciding big questions and one of the biggest questions facing the United States today is what to do about China. So why do I have an uneasy feeling about China becoming a focus of this year’s presidential election?

Maybe it’s because of the way the question is being framed. It looks like we voters are being asked to decide which candidate will be tougher on China, as if toughness were a policy.

Oh, and of course, we are already being treated to attack ads. The Trump campaign put out one painting Biden as soft on China thanks to his son’s business interests there. Not to be outdone, the Biden campaign ran one saying the president’s tweets complimenting Xi Jinping showed “Trump rolled over for the Chinese.“

This is not the debate on China that we need.

To be sure, promises to “get tougher” probably resonate with voters. The electorate’s view of China has turned sharply negative. According to Pew Research Center, in 2005 only 35% of Americans had an unfavorable view of the country. In 2017, when Donald Trump became president, 47% did. Today it’s 66%.

An array of China-related things dismays Americans, from lost jobs to cyberattacks. Pew also found Americans very concerned about China’s impact on the environment, its policies on human rights and its growing military power.

Nor is the anti-China sentiment partisan. Both parties view the Middle Kingdom with suspicion, with 72% of Republicans and 62% of Democrats having unfavorable views.

Covid-19 hasn’t helped. Whether or not President Donald Trump should have dubbed it the “Chinese virus,” China was in fact its place of origin. Heavy-handed attempts by Chinese propagandists to suggest it started in the US likely backfired, adding to anti-China sentiment. In a recent Harris poll, 77% of Americans said Chinese President Xi Jinping is an untrustworthy source of information about the virus.


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