Saturday, April 25, 2020

Urgent Course Correction Needed for Biden

This was first posted in Asia Times.

Last week I suggested that getting along with China would be essential to making America better. I had Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden in mind when I wrote that commentary.
When I saw Biden’s first campaign TV spot positioning him to be a more emphatic China basher than Donald Trump, I was deeply troubled. Promptly, I did an e-mail blast to my friends with my piece attached urging them to forward it to Biden’s camp.
One friend was quick to react. He said he had contacted someone in Washington close to the Biden campaign and shown him my piece. That person said that if I made a sizable donation to the campaign, I could join in a Zoom videoconference and tell Biden personally.

‘Pay to play’ the rot of politics

I didn’t even bother to check on the minimum buy-in required. I don’t believe, and never have, that the exercise of democracy should be based on “pay as you go.”

A group of WeChat members, all first-generation immigrants to the US from the People’s Republic of China, read my piece and asked me to lead a discussion on how to support Biden. Yes, WeChat is an app from China, but participation is open to anyone.
First, I am going to tell them that they do not have to kiss up to the Biden camp. As an organized group of voters, they can expect to be heard. The bigger the group, the louder is their voice.
They should inform the Biden organizers that bashing China as a campaign issue has reached the point of diminishing return. Rather than a tired and worn-out subject, the pandemic is a real adversary for the US, and Trump’s response amply displays his ineptitude and incompetence. 

To win, just present facts on Trump

Every week, the Biden camp simply needs to compile and publish a list of falsehoods, failures to deliver, contradictions and position reversals from Trump to show the American people that he has been an abject failure as president.

Monday, April 20, 2020

A Chinese American idea for a better America

First posted on Asia Times
I am a proud Chinese-American and proud to have been nurtured by the best of both worlds. I am enriched by the culture and long history of my motherland and an America that offered me the opportunity to obtain a great education and live my American dream. 
Naturally I have great affection for everything Chinese, from folk tales to historical legends to great food. I am amazed at how quickly China has caught up to the modern world and deeply moved by the millions upon millions of people whom China has lifted out of poverty. 
Nevertheless, while I am proud of China’s accomplishments, what happens in China is not my business. I am an American citizen. My loyalty is with the US, and my vested interests and concerns rest with what my country will be like for my children and grandchildren.
Therefore, it’s time for me to take a look at how we can make America better if not great again. Since I have been thinking a lot about this matter, this is an opportunity to share my views with readers.

By the time we finally put the Covid-19 pandemic behind us, the US Federal Reserve will have printed multiple trillions of dollars, in essence out of thin air, to keep the economy going. 
I can’t predict how all this paper money not backed by any asset will eventually impact the American economy. There are plenty of distinguished economists studying whether and when we will face inflation, depression, stagflation, devaluation, or some combination thereof.
Suffice it for me to say that we can’t in good conscience spend beyond our means indefinitely and expect our grandchildren and their grandchildren to pick up the tab and bail out the economy. We have an obligation to reduce deficit spending now.

This is where changing our policy toward China can make a huge difference. 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

US faces a hard choice about China

First posted on Asia Times and ChinaUSFocus

American President Donald Trump lives by one dictum: He takes no responsibility. And therefore, he can’t make mistakes and thus is never wrong. Further, he expects unfailing and unconditional adoration. 

Many that aspire to serve in his administration have gone through the revolving door for failing to meet his perceived threshold of loyalty. This hasn’t just led to the coalescent of a coterie of obsequious men and women around him, but far more damaging, Trump has bent the integrity and besmirched the honor of America.

A case in point. Recently an open letterwas addressed to the White House urging the Trump Administration to turn from attacking to working with China. It was signed by 100 prominent China scholars and former government officials under the joint banner ofAsia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations & the 21st Century China Center at UC San Diego's School of Global Policy and Strategy.

100 urged Trump to work with China

The letter very sensibly points out that all the nations need to work together to battle a pandemic that knows no national boundaries. Specifically, it said, “No effort against the coronavirus – whether to save American lives at home or combat the disease abroad – will be successful without some degree of cooperation between the United States and China.”

“Some degree of cooperation,” the letter said is already a bit of equivocation, but the tiptoeing goes further. The letter reiterated the same Mike Pompeo accusations about China’s coverup, lack of transparency etc., as if these assertions had become fact through repetition by the current State Department, a department being led by a cabinet officer that draws heavily on his lie, cheat and stealCIA experience.

Many publications, including mine, have clearly established that Pompeo’s accusations of China are groundless. Fairness & Accuracy in Reportingsubsequently cited four prestigious medical and science-based journals that independently verified and supported China’s denial of any fudging of their reports.

A week later, FAIRgoes a step further and accuses the US State Department as the disseminator of fake information about the coronavirus; the very activity Pompeo has been accusing China of perpetrating. The post said, “There’s a patent irony here: The State Department is impugning enemies in order to distract from its own policy failures—exactly what it’s accusing those enemies of.”

At the April 2 press briefing at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, the Bloomberg reporter asked about the under reporting of Covid-19 fatalities from China, as alleged by three unnamed US intelligence officials. 

At the mention of “unnamed officials,” the Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying arched her eyebrows and responded that it’s a waste of time get into the blame game with American politicians.

China challenged the US to do better

She cited the detailed timeline of events and developments that China had posted on the Internet, independently validated by a host of third-party organizations including the World Health Organization.

Ms. Hua then turned the tables and asked if the US were in China’s place, could they have done better, i.e., reacted faster and prevented fewer deaths? She reminded the Bloomberg reporter that Washington knew about the outbreak in early January. Yet as late as end of February, Trump still insisted that all public health announcements from the federal government funnel through Vice President Pence—hardly at the level of transparency the US demanded of China.

Not informing the American public about the threat of the pandemic is bad enough, but not preparing to take Covid-19 seriously until late Marchtakes away the moral authority for Trump to criticize any other country for negligence or lack of veracity.

Given Trump’s personality, it’s easy to understand why the open letter, signed by distinguished ex-public servants and seasoned experts on China, felt the need for an obligatory genuflect toward the false representations from the White House.

Take Dr. Anthony Fauci, for example. He enjoys world-wide reputation in his scientific expertise and experience in the treatment of infectious diseases. When pressed for an answer that the public would accept, Trump would yield the podium to Fauci—which happened at nearly every briefing, to offer science-based information that could reassure a panic-stricken nation

Even Fauci is careful to couch his words gingerly and diplomatically lest he trips on Trump’s minefield loaded with off the cuff falsehoods and ego driven distortions. While his longevity at NIH and past record of achievements might give him some job protection, Peter Navarroappears emboldened to lust after his job, envious of Fauci’s media star stature and banking on the credits of his undying loyalty to Trump.

Richard Grenell was so afraid of inadvertently making public statements that would anger Trump that he avoided appearing before the Congress to give testimony. He had just been appointed acting director of National Intelligence based on his credentials being slavishly loyal to Trump. Even so, Trump’s reputation had him quaking.

Trump is rude, crude and vindictive and he thrives on intimidation. At every White House briefing, he invariably hurls abusive insults at some hapless member of the press that offended him in some way. His persona has forced the mainstream media such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post to adjust by compromising some principles of journalism in order to maintain access and continuity.

His style not only has changed the way news is reported, it has changed the nature of public discourse. Twisting public opinion against China became one of the biases accomplished by his hardline followers. If your white paper, with the best intentions to serve the public, does not give lip service to some parts of his half-truths and fake facts, the paper will be ignored. That’s my explanation for the capitulating concession in the open letter.

Pompeo’s lie, cheat and steal diplomacy

Unfortunately, the pandemic not only has raised the tension between the two countries, the coronavirus has also brought out the worst side of Trump’s America. The world saw rather emphatically that Trump’s idea of “America first” meant brutish bullying of other countries, friend and foe alike. 

Just google “hijacking medical supplies,” and the reader would see a huge list of Internet complaints accusing FEMA and the US of outbidding and outright commandeering pallets of masks and gowns intended for other countries—in one case snatched from the tarmac—and diverted them to US bound planes. This is just one of the posts. Not for nothing that Pompeo’s third arm of diplomacy is “we steal.”

Any American with a sense of decency and fairness should feel embarrassed and ashamed.

The tragic case of aircraft carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt, also calls for another fundamental adjustment in US foreign policy. The carrier departed from the home port of San Diego on January 17, stopped at Guam on February 7 and after a short stay sailed on to Da Nang in Vietnam docking there on March 5. Then matters got murky.

While the ship arrived in Da Nang, there were no known active Covid-19 cases in Vietnam. On March 8, two new cases of the virus appeared in Da Nang brought on by two British tourists. The ship departed from Da Nang the next day. The first sailor on the carrier diagnosed with Covid-19 was on March 22.

Which direction was the contagion transmitted, from Da Nang to the ship or from the ship to the Vietnamese? Given the normal 15-day incubation and typical asymptomatic contagious period of 5 days, the answer is not obvious without additional data to be taken from politically agnostic, science-based testing.

Rethinking ship deployment with pandemic

The US Navy also owes the American public another explanation. According to Defense One, on February 28, acting Secretary of Navy Thomas Modly ordered the 7thfleet ships to self-quarantine by staying at sea for 14 days. Yet the Roosevelt proceeded to Da Nang and docked there on March 5. Why, asked Asia Times?

The order to stay at sea obviously stems from the catastrophe taking place on the cruise ship Diamond Princess. The Navy observed that when thousands of passengers and crew are on board a ship, disaster is just waiting for one sick person to trigger the contagion. The closer quarters on a navel ship is even more likely to incubate outbreaks.

Ordering the ships to remain at sea can be rationalized as a cynical command to see if any of the ships have asymptomatic sailors on board, i.e., if anyone becomes sick later while in quarantine.  As to why the Roosevelt continued on to Vietnam is a question waiting for the Navy to explain.

So long as the threat of Covid-19 remains palpable the Pentagon will need to recalculate the risk and reward of sending flotillas halfway around the world in the name of exercising the freedom of navigation on the South China Sea.

The danger for any ship while at sea, days and weeks away from land, is if an outbreak were to strike, the ship could cease to be combat able and may even just float dead in the water, depending on how fast the infection spreads over the ship. 

What should Joe Biden do?

Now that former vice president Joe Biden has become Trump’s presumptive opponent, it will be necessary for Biden and his campaign team to take a top to bottom evaluation on where various issues stand.

The Trump campaign has already fired the first volley, accusing Biden of being too close to China and not incidentally the campaign clip also took a xenophobic swipe at Americans that were of Chinese ancestry. The New York Times said, “The ad, which calls Joe Biden soft on China and falsely suggests a former governor of Washington is Chinese, shows that President Trump plans to continue exploiting racial discord in his re-election bid.”

The one-minute spot was loaded with cheap shots designed to mislead and fool the uninformed. As vice president, Biden made official visits to Beijing. Footage of his meeting with China’s president Xi Jinping suggested something unsavory and implied that then ambassador Gary Locke accompanying Biden was a Chinese official.

As the election campaign heats up, Biden can expect a piling on of TV spots that will accuse him of being in Beijing’s pocket. With Steve Bannon, a master of misdirection and misinformation, advising Trump’s campaign, being close to China will just be one of the issues Biden will have to deal with. 

What should Biden do to counter? Should he counter by arguing that he is as anti-China as Trump or even more rabid? Surely that would put him on the defensive and exercising a losing strategy.

Instead, Biden should articulate an approach with China as diametrically different from Trump as possible. Talk about lobal trade rather than tariff war, collaboration on battling the pandemic, joint leadership on climate change and mutual contribution to financial stability on the world. Those would be some of the major issues that expose Trump’s failure to deliver for the American people.

Biden’s job is to take a bold stand and explain to the voters that working with China will boost the global economy including the U.S. Conversely, by continuing on Trump’s trajectory of treating China as an adversary and decoupling from each other, the economy of both countries will shrink and assure a losing future for the people of America, and for the world.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Donald Trump flipflops through the pandemic

From AsiaTimes.

The latest news on President Donald Trump, America’s flipflop-in-chief, is that he had a good conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping. They agreed to battle Covid-19 together and Trump swore off referring to the “Chinese virus” from then on.
Of course, Trump has had a history of alternately praising and blasting China for the way it has dealt with the virus. Thus it remains to be seen as to how long his flip will last before he flops again.
Trump’s liar-in-chief and top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has not yet pulled up his reins but continues to attack China and insist that Beijing has covered up the reality of the coronavirus crisis. He has singlehandedly blocked any attempt at forming international solidarity to fight the contagion by insisting on naming the “Wuhan virus” as the cause of the pandemic. 
Pompeo has also been the point man for the Trump administration on driving the assertion that the US has been victimized by China’s coverup of the outbreak. Whether China actually covered up anything has become an increasingly harsh bone of contention between China and the US.

As I reported last weekNature published a timeline of events related to the outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan and left no gaps that could have been the source of a communication blackout. There was perhaps a week to 10 days in early December when local officials wrestled to understand the sort of contagion they were facing and did not immediately file a report to Beijing.

No room for coverup

Had health officials in Wuhan known then what they learned later, the short interval of silence could have made a difference, but that pales in comparison with the months that followed. The entire world came to know about the looming pandemic, yet the Trump team sat on their hands and just worked on an orchestrated blame game.
This week, Asia-Review posted an even more detailed timeline. It said that on December 27, 2019, Dr Zhang Jixian, an ICU (intensive-care unit) doctor at Hubei Hospital of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine, filed a report to the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission describing patients suffering from pneumonia of an unknown cause.
Three more patients entered the hospital the next day showing similar symptoms, and that set in motion the events reported in Nature and Asia-Review. Asia Review concluded: “China’s response to the outbreak of Covid-19 has been exceedingly transparent, swift, effective and life-saving. 
“However, the narrative has been hijacked by a few Western media outlets to propagate a coverup using nitpicked events that were twisted to fit their narrative.”
China set about doing the genetic sequencing of the novel coronavirus on January 9 and shared its finding of the genetic sequence with an international database on January 11. Hardly the action of a coverup.