Some time ago, I described to a friend the horrors in Chinese concentration camps as unspeakably bad. They would use casual horror as a way to test who would obey the orders not to look away, and murder those who did. Murdered because your submission was not so complete that you could stomach institutionalized gang rape.
It is impossible for me to have any conversation about American policy with the Chinese government without saying something like this. I could pick something new each time, until I thought someone understood.
Don't get me wrong, I like Chinese people. I've met more than a few, and not ever had a negative experience. But the Chinese government is evil, and I simply cannot engage in a meaningful discussion about purchase guarantees of American goods without having it firmly established beforehand how little that matters.
Of course, if you've known much about the degradation and horrors of China's past, of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, you might reasonably say things are better. It is a hard pill to swallow, but I think that is true. But if you move 80% of the distance between America and Pol-Pot-adjacent, you still end up in a pretty terrible place.
So, let's talk about industrial policy, about imports and exports. But when the EU said China was spreading misinformation about the coronavirus, they threatened to withhold medical supplies during the pandemic. Any other understanding of the world exists because of deliberate misunderstanding – though perhaps not your own. China will execute people for revealing their bad behavior at home, and has exerted immense pressure, beyond what almost anyone could withstand, to stop true facts about their behavior from emerging in the rest of the world.
It's not that trade policy doesn't matter. But the future of humanity matters more, and we must face the consequence of allowing a stable authoritarian government to take a fifth of humanity in their grasp. I see no simple way forward, except a path that leads to disaster. Without a strong response from the United States (not a military response), we will go down the path where otherwise seemingly sane people fail to grasp the horrors of this world and let those horrors conquer it.
China claims, for now, to only have expansionist desires to the limits of all their historical claims – that alone is enough to spark a world war in defense of Taiwan, who deserves the protection of all liberal democracies. But their desire for soft power, to keep the complimentary coverage of their atrocities, to decide what is in movies and newspapers, that is global. And we simply cannot let that happen. The soul of humanity is at stake. And if we can't say this is wrong, we have lost far more than whatever money or industry naive policies could buy us.