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China After Coronavirus – Should We Ever Trust Beijing Again?

| Apr. 08, 2020

After becoming chairman of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, Xi Jinping sparked a period of aggressive, multifaceted confrontation with the U.S. that has transformed what was an intertwined, symbiotic economic relationship into the most palpable great power competition.

China is militarizing the South China Sea in spite of President Xi’s claim to the contrary during a Rose Garden meeting with President Obama. In 2015 China allegedly hacked into the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to steal U.S. government employee data. China brazenly counterfeits U.S. products and steals its intellectual property. Chinese Intelligence is ruthlessly focused on penetrating U.S. innovation, military and high technology sectors.

“From a counter-intelligence perspective,” FBI Director Christopher Wray has emphasized, “China represents the broadest and most challenging threat we face as a country.”

The coronavirus has exposed even deeper fault lines in the increasingly acrimonious U.S.-China relationship. The U.S. is now taking appropriate measures to mitigate the risk to our national security of relying on China for critical technology, precious metals and medical supplies.

Complicating matters, nothing scares Xi’s ruthless dictatorship more than democracy, of which the U.S. is the standard-bearer. Chinese state-controlled media’s mission is not to inform accurately but rather serve as an instrument of state repression, disinformation and propaganda to control the Chinese population and exculpate the country’s tarnished overseas image.

President Ronald Reagan rightly called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and countered Soviet expansion worldwide, but he also negotiated comprehensive nuclear arms reductions.

Applying Reagan’s nuanced strategy to the U.S.-China relationship, we might imagine a Venn diagram, with shaded space of shared interests, unshaded space where our interests will never intersect, and a grey area where some level of accord – for example, on combating the coronavirus – might be reached.

Retired FBI Special Agent Robin Dreeke’s 2020 book “Sizing People Up,” is a road map for getting the most out of interaction with challenging personalities.

Dreeke, who served as the FBI’s director of the Behavior Analysis Program, is an expert in assessing people. He outlines six signs for predicting behavior, which can unlock how the U.S. and China might find some piece of common ground.

Let’s start with Dreeke’s third sign, reliability. Can Xi do what he says he will and will he?

China concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in Hubei province in late 2019. China’s National Health Commission did not issue a warning about the outbreak of the virus until Jan. 19, 2020. China has consistently underreported the total number of coronavirus cases and deaths resulting from the pandemic. Responsibility for filling these significant gaps in data falls to the U.S. intelligence community.  Differentiating between China’s lack of competence or capability and deliberate obfuscation is of paramount importance.

Much of the U.S.-China relationship is a zero-sum game.  But Dreeke’s concept of vesting – the idea that China and the U.S. see benefit from the other’s success – applies to fighting the coronavirus and preventing or containing future pandemics. 

Determining whether vesting is possible hinges on “the one thing you can always predict people to do is act in their own best interests.” China’s reputation, economy and the health of its population are at great risk. China’s Ministry of Science and Technology should, therefore, see the value in collaborating at some level with the U.S. National Institutes of Health on sharing data, developing and testing anti-viral medications, and exchanging ideas for how best to use technology to map and contain the virus.

Echoing Reagan’s admonition about the Soviets, the U.S. would trust but with help from the intelligence community, verify China’s actions to determine whether there is a consistent pattern of positive behavior.

In this respect, fighting the coronavirus together with China might impact positively on how both nations view the longevity of their relationship even if only in this one particular but important area.

Reagan demonstrated that the U.S. could counter and simultaneously collaborate on issues of paramount importance with the Soviets. With good reason, many of our elected leaders doubt the efficacy of engaging at all with China.

“Why trust?” Dreeke asks rhetorically, “because if you do it rationally (and heed Dreeke’s wise counsel to think like an FBI behavioral analyst) it’s better than the alternative.”

  – Via Fox News.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Hoffman, Daniel.“China After Coronavirus – Should We Ever Trust Beijing Again?.” Fox News, April 8, 2020.