As many states begin the difficult task of reopening after weeks of shutdowns to fight the spread of COVID-19, it’s become painfully clear that life will be anything but normal as we adjust to a “new normal.”
Across the country, college campuses may remain closed into the fall, with University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel remarking that fall 2020 is “unlikely to be a normal semester.” Millions of American workers have lost their jobs and countless small businesses will be confronted with the difficult decision to shut down. Meanwhile, new estimates suggest that the threat posed by COVID-19 — which has now killed over 70,000 Americans — is going nowhere.
But as Americans look forward to the dismal future, good is coming out of this nightmarish pandemic. Countries across the world are intelligently emerging from COVID-19 with new ways of life and new ways of doing things that will make societies better places in general. Here in the United States, as we begin to make our difficult journey back to whatever new normal will await us, we have a lot of work ahead of us. But there’s one goal in particular that we must put at the top of our list: ending our dangerous dependence on China.
Since President Donald Trump was first elected almost four years ago, he has stressed time after time that our nation is far too reliant on a country halfway across the globe. With a population of 1.4 billion people, China has different goals, different interests and different ways of governing. Since COVID-19 first emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan and quickly paralyzed the world, many have started to believe the president and realize the inherent danger in depending on China — a great economic rival and American adversary — to produce American goods and control supply chains. It’s perfectly fine to be friendly with China and forge economic alliances where appropriate, but as evidenced by COVID-19, America desperately needs to be able to stand on its own.
For years before the COVID-19 crisis, China increasingly gained control over our products, supply chains and industries, tightening its grip on American life and making us more dependent on its authoritarian regime than ever before. With promises of lenient regulation and cheap labor, American businesses have been flocking to China for decades, manufacturing products overseas at the expense of American economic progress.
If the perils of our reliance on China weren’t clear a few months ago, they are painfully obvious today. In the worst moments of our battle against COVID-19, we have been constantly reminded of our dangerous dependence on Beijing. While most didn’t bother to consider this before the pandemic, the production of common pharmaceutical drugs Americans need is controlled almost entirely by China. In 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 95 percent of U.S. imports of ibuprofen are from China. Meanwhile, 70 percent of U.S. imports of acetaminophen, along with over 40 percent of imported penicillin, originates from China. According to a recent Politico article, “A watchdog report last month by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission and a recent congressional hearing warn that China hopes of surpassing the United States as the world’s biggest producer of pharmaceutical products.” Additionally, FDA inspections of one drug production plant in Anyang, China, two years ago revealed “significant deviations from current good manufacturing practice.”
If China’s near-total control of our medications doesn’t trouble you in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic — when we need reliable medicine more than ever — there’s more. As I detailed in a recent column, one of the largest reasons this pandemic has proven so disruptive for Americans is because of our lack of personal protective equipment or essential medical equipment, such as N95 masks or ventilators. What is becoming more clear as we emerge from COVID-19 is that China is directly responsible for much of our trouble obtaining this vital medical equipment. In a recent interview, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said that China “cornered” the production of PPE during the pandemic and has since “profiteered” from its actions.
More than ever before, the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that our increasing dependence on China is completely unacceptable. As we continue to invest in Chinese progress instead of our own, we continue to put ourselves at a profound economic risk, not to mention the dangerous medical implications of our reliance on China.
Beyond the direct impacts of American reliance on China during COVID-19, which gave way to severe medical supply shortages, our willingness to lean on Beijing has produced a cascade of risks that will stay with us until we are able to stand on our own. If the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t convince us to change our ways now, China will continue to stand in the way of our health, economic progress and national security.
At a time when we are beginning to live life again, emerging from our homes and trying to adjust to normalcy after weeks in quarantine, it’s time to begin supporting American interests and progress immediately. Now, more than ever before, it’s urgent that we take COVID-19 as a lesson and end China’s chokehold on our great nation.
Evan Stern can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.