According to the Biden administration’s 2022 National Security Strategy, because the Cold War “is definitely over,” we now live in a “new era of competition.” We are competing with China in this new era as a “strategic competitor.” This approach didn’t make sense because the Cold War has been over for 30 years, and America’s major rivals, Russia and China, behave mostly like rogue state adversaries rather than competitors
But the fallacy of calling China a competitor is even starker when one considers that the Chinese government knowingly allowed the deadly COVID-19 virus to spread worldwide.
This was a criminal act, not an example of nation-state competition.
U.S. intelligence agencies are finally coming around to the obvious conclusion that the COVID-19 virus leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, China. Some U.S. intelligence agencies disagree or can’t decide. Some non-U.S. government experts believe the virus was developed as a Chinese bioweapon. But there is no disagreement that reckless decisions by Beijing after the outbreak in Wuhan greatly contributed to the rapid spread of the virus around the world and made it much harder to combat.
These irresponsible decisions included secretly locking down Chinese cities and restricting domestic travel after realizing the severity of the virus in January 2020 while promoting international travel to and from China until March 2020.
Chinese officials tried to deflect attention from its internal lockdowns in early 2020 by lying about the severity of the virus and claiming there was no evidence of person-to-person transmission. They also spread disinformation that the virus originated outside of China and was brought to China by the U.S. military.
Even worse, Beijing protested Chinese travel bans that other nations imposed to protect their nations from Chinese travelers carrying the virus.
Let’s be very clear about what happened here: Chinese officials knowingly permitted the deadly COVID-19 virus to spread around the world by allowing air travel from China while they were locking down their country and restricting internal travel to save their own population. This was not China “competing” with the U.S. and the world. This was a crime against humanity by a criminal adversary.
In addition, Chinese officials worsened the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic by refusing to cooperate with international investigations into the virus’s origins. Inspections of locations in Wuhan where the virus was first reported, lab samples from the Wuhan lab, biological samples from those first infected, autopsies, and interviews with Chinese scientists and doctors who treated COVID-19 patients at the start of the outbreak could have helped the world defeat the virus more quickly and prevent its spread.
Furthermore, Beijing’s continuing refusal to cooperate with investigations of the origins of COVID-19 makes the world more vulnerable to similar pandemics in the future.
To call China a competitor is to normalize its belligerent efforts to replace the U.S. as the world’s leading power and to create a new Chinese-led global order that China’s autocratic rulers can more easily manipulate. Spreading viruses, stealing intellectual property, grossly abusing trade agreements using civilian electronics and social media to spy on ordinary Americans, spreading disinformation, attempting to interfere in American elections, and other hostile actions are warlike behavior by a nation-state, not competition.
America needs to find a way to coexist with China despite its autocratic and oppressive communist system of government. This does not mean treating this system as morally equivalent to our own or tolerating its excesses and violations of international law.
The Chinese government, therefore, must be held accountable for its actions that caused the COVID-19 virus to become a deadly pandemic and its refusal to cooperate with international investigations into the virus’s origins. The United States should work with its allies to lead this effort and fight back against Beijing’s attempts to bully any country or person who speaks about Beijing’s culpability for the COVID-19 pandemic.
And finally, let’s agree once and for all to stop referring to Communist China as a U.S. competitor.
• Fred Fleitz is vice chair of the America First Policy Institute Center for American Security. He previously served as National Security Council chief of staff, CIA analyst, and a member of the House Intelligence Committee staff.