The Chinese Communist Party has no interest in becoming a responsible global power. If that was not clear from its flagrant industrial espionage or its imprisonment of a million Uyghur Muslims, then the party’s blatant mishandling of the Wuhan coronavirus should alleviate any doubt.
In December, the Community Chinese Party’s (CCP) propaganda machine reportedly tried to tamp down initial concerns raised by medical professionals in Wuhan. It accused Li Wenliang, the doctor who initially tried to inform colleagues about the coronavirus originating in Wuhan and its ability to spread from person to person, of “inciting panic” and “spreading rumors” – until he himself tragically contracted the virus and died.
The CCP also withheld live virus samples from the international medical community for weeks, despite urgent pleas. Many suspect that the CCP continues to downplay the spread of the coronavirus by underreporting infections and deaths, especially given the shortages of test kits and the communications blackout in central China.
It gets worse.
Beijing pressured its fellow BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) nations to issue supportive public statements, and it has bullied others not to take preventive measures. It even objected to the World Health Organization sharing information with Taiwan, which is home to one of the busiest airports in Asia – all this just to try to save face.
For two decades, we have been told to wait for China to mature into a responsible global power. Our political, corporate, and cultural elites have proclaimed the wisdom and enrichment that were supposed to come with accepting CCP’s spin on democracy, human rights, and economic competition.
But it is clear that Beijing’s authoritarian tendencies are incompatible with responsible global leadership and the values cherished by those who love freedom.
In the case of coronavirus, a democratic and open political system would not just have identified the outbreak earlier; it would have also done its due diligence and shared accurate information to both its own public and the global community in a timely manner.
Although Chinese citizens are severely repressed and intensely surveilled by the Chinese government, there is an understanding that their government is failing them. Of course, if the CCP believes it is losing control, the party will take further measures to close off civil society.
America’s near-term challenge is facing down the extraordinary risk that the coronavirus poses internationally. Its high rate of transmissibility is even more concerning because of the many unknown factors about the disease’s origins and lethality. Beijing recently reported 15,000 new cases, bringing the total number of those infected worldwide to more than 70,000.
In the longer term, the United States must confront the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party. Amid this crisis, we have seen the leverage the CCP is willing to exploit over other countries, but many of our political, corporate, and cultural elites are far too comfortable with the status quo despite its long-term threat to American safety, security, and prosperity.
Because American companies have offshored so many of our medical supply chains to an unreliable and opaque partner, America is vulnerable on multiple levels. For example, U.S. shoppers looking for medical facemasks today will find themselves repeatedly thwarted by “sold out” and “out of stock” signs because we rely on China, which is ground zero for the epidemic and thus refuses to export any masks. Our pharmaceutical industry is almost wholly dependent on foreign countries for active pharmaceutical ingredients, with China being the primary supplier.
Beijing understands the economic risk it faces – both because of the Wuhan coronavirus itself but also international backlash – and its foreign ministry is now demanding that foreign countries re-normalize business with it. Ominously, the CCP warns that by declining to restore trade ties, other nations risk damaging their own economies because of the vast extent of economic integration.
For American businesses, it is a morbid reminder of why authoritarianism and market economics don’t mix in the long run.
Mr. Rubio, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Florida.