Americans want China to pay for COVID-19 pandemic

Sanctions, tariffs and refusing to pay interest on Chinese-held debt is in order

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed deep divisions in the United States, but in one crucial area, it has unified our nation. With more than 90,000 dead and nearly 1.5 million sick, the American people have decisively judged the country that created this crisis: Communist China.

That’s the finding of a new poll commissioned by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and conducted by YouGov. In a representative survey of American adults, we discovered that 71% of the country believes that Beijing should be penalized for the coronavirus. There is deep public support for international sanctions, additional tariffs, refusing to pay interest on Chinese-held U.S. debt, and banning communist officials from traveling to America. A majority want Beijing to pay America and other countries for the lives and livelihoods it has destroyed. Only 17 percent don’t want reparations.

More broadly, we found that a stunning 67 percent of Americans now view Beijing as an enemy or opponent. This tracks with a Gallup poll in March that showed U.S. favorability of China at an all-time low.

We don’t have to wonder why the American people feel this way. By now it is well-known that Beijing’s oppression and secrecy hid the true nature of the coronavirus, allowing it to spread virtually unchecked around the world — but not within other provinces of China. Scientists in the United Kingdom have shown that if China had been honest and taken earlier action, there would have been 95 percent fewer cases globally. Instead, the Communist Party covered up the truth, with disastrous consequences for America and the whole world.

But Americans aren’t just turning on China because of the current pandemic.

The last few months are merely the latest proof that Beijing endangers U.S. security and prosperity, and it dovetails with the growing realization that China’s authoritarian vision threatens human rights everywhere, including our own. Our fellow citizens have watched with horror as the Chinese Communist Party has stepped up its campaign to conquer Hong Kong, thrown millions of Muslim Uighurs into modern-day concentration camps, and convinced U.S. companies like the NBA and others to censor free speech and toe Beijing’s propaganda line.

No wonder Americans want to decouple our country from China and hold that regime accountable. Yet the greatest barrier to fulfilling the people’s wish isn’t geopolitics, commercial ties or anything of the kind. It’s something much simpler: The self-interest of our political and business leaders.

From the moment President Nixon set foot in China in 1972 to the present day, U.S. elites have long been captivated by the promise of good relations with the Middle Kingdom. Politicians, from both parties, have sought to cement their own legacies by drawing our countries closer together. CEOs have salivated at the possibility of tapping such a huge consumer market and labor pool, envisioning lower costs and higher profits.

Yet while these leaders have spent decades touting the benefits of ever-closer ties, over that same time, the American people have almost uniformly seen Communist China in a negative light.

This unfortunate mismatch is still true today. Even now, the sense among high society is that Americans should accept the Chinese Communist Party’s growing power. Some, like many business leaders and the families of former U.S. presidents, continue to say that closer U.S.-China cooperation is the key to our future.

Meanwhile, the current race for the White House features one man who voted for legislation that allowed China to decimate American manufacturing, and another man who, despite strong rhetoric and much-needed containment policies, has staked much of his legacy on striking an elusive trade deal with Beijing and has even praised Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “transparency.”

But the American people don’t want deals or flattery. In their boundless common sense, our fellow citizens rightly see that Communist China and free, democratic America cannot co-exist cozily. This was becoming clear before the coronavirus. It is unmistakable now that Beijing’s actions have led to the death of nearly 100,000 of our family, friends and neighbors, and the suffering of millions more.

There is an overwhelming post-partisan consensus that the United States must take a much stronger stance when it comes to Chinese oppression and aggression, whether morally, diplomatic, military or economic. The expectation is growing for our elected officials — Republican and Democrat — to reflect the unity of the nation and hold Communist China accountable.

Americans are being told that we may have to “live with” the coronavirus for the time being and accept a new reality. But the American people are telling our leaders that we do not have to accept the Chinese Communist Party’s influence and propaganda within our country. We do not have to accept our manufacturing and medical dependence on China. These are things we can change. And most Americans think we should.

Marion Smith (@smithmarion) is executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Originally published in The Washington Times.