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China adds insult to injury

China adds insult to injury
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When your “injury” is a global pandemic, it is hard to add “insult” to it. Difficulty notwithstanding, China did.  

If there is anything positive that can come from a terrible 2020, it should be — it must be — bipartisan agreement on the importance of confronting China’s communist government harmful actions. This is warranted by the need for full accounting of its role in the coronavirus but also its growing list of transgressions as the pandemic rages. 

Over a year into coronavirus hell, it is worth remembering where it began: Wuhan, China. At least that is the world’s best guess. Even a year later, it is hard to be more accurate because China’s government could hardly have been less cooperative.  

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Outside efforts to investigate have been thwarted. The government controls all research on coronavirus’s origins, strictly limiting what is released. Leaked documents show this lack of cooperation comes from the top of the Communist Party. 

Hardly new, this lack of cooperation has typified the Chinese government’s approach from the beginning, even as coronavirus ravaged its own people.  

Evidence from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows Chinese authorities had identified 124 coronavirus cases as early as December 2019, with five already outside Wuhan. Early in January 2020, China’s government still delayed releasing vital information; this delay stalled discovering coronavirus’s spread abroad, as well as the development of medical tools to combat the virus. It also allowed coronavirus to spread.

The results are still with us. As of Feb. 7, there have been 106 million cases and 2.3 million deaths worldwide. There are still 25.9 million active cases and counting. In the U.S., there have been 27.1 million cases and over 470,000 deaths. There are 9.8 million active cases.

Coronavirus has also wrecked economies like no other health disaster. Estimates are that the global economy shrank 3.5 percent in 2020 — the worst drop in decades. America’s GDP also dropped 3.5 percent last year. Ten million people are still unemployed, with 140,000 jobs lost in December and just 49,000 added in January, while unemployment is at 6.3 percent. America is not estimated to regain its pre-pandemic GDP level until mid-2021, with elevated unemployment remaining through 2021

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What has China been doing during this time? According to estimates, China’s economy grew roughly 2.3 percent in 2020. China’s Communist government has been even busier.

China has taken advantage of the world’s devastation and distraction to continue or accelerate its aggressive policies at home and abroad. 

Internally, China has increased its incarceration of 1 million Uyghurs in concentration camps. Those camps anchor a policy that outgoing Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike Pompeo Sunday shows preview: Infrastructure expected to dominate as talks continue to drag The triumph and tragedy of 1989: Why Tiananmen still matters Pence slams Biden agenda in New Hampshire speech MORE labeled genocide, a characterization Biden’s campaign agreed with during 2020’s campaign. 

In July, China’s government broke its “two systems, one country” pledge with Hong Kong by imposing a repressive national security law there. The government has also targeted dissidents outside Honk Kong throughout 2020. 

Externally, China’s government has been busier still. Recently its air force repeatedly violated Taiwan’s airspace. In October, to remove any doubt to their response to Taiwan’s overtures for “peaceful dialogue,” Beijing released footage of an invasion exercise off its Southeast Coast. 

The government’s provocative policy of island-building in the South China Sea continued, highlighted by the sinking of a Vietnamese vessel and challenging Malaysian oil exploration. Japan reported East China Sea incursions reached a record 333. China also has made an example of Australia, blocking certain of its exports in retaliation for Australia’s condemnation of China’s government practices.

The Chinese government’s most bellicose action was massing thousands of troops on its disputed border with India. China’s May buildup was the greatest escalation of tension in decades and resulted in military clashes.

Decades ago, Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) famously said America must cease “partisan politics at the water’s edge.” Perhaps in today’s fractious climate, bipartisan politics can begin there as well. If there is one thing both parties can and must agree on is the danger China’s Communist government poses to America and the world.

For years, China has demonstrated its threat, but 2020 proved it like no other.  

Already the coronavirus has been the world’s greatest man-made disaster in peacetime. That we still know so little about it is unconscionable and directly due to the Chinese government’s desire that more not be known. 

That the virus itself had the impact it has is also clearly due to the Chinese government’s lack of transparency in the early outbreak. No other government has the power or the willingness to so thoroughly control internal and external communication — even as the virus spread among its own people and then into the world. 

Yet, 2020’s evidence extends beyond the Chinese government’s unresponsiveness during the pandemic to its internal and external repressiveness. Even absent the coronavirus pandemic, the Chinese government’s actions in 2020 underscore the danger it poses and the necessity of bipartisan unity in response. 

By forging bipartisan unity here, perhaps Washington bipartisanship can extend further to domestic priorities. Yet even if it does not, it is crucial here and now. China’s Communist government must see a continuity of purpose to respond to it, even as it sees a change in regimes. Because in 2020, the Chinese government did not just add insult to injury, it added injury to injury.

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.