The Democratic Party has always been weak on national security when it comes to China. But some credit is due when it comes to China’s atrocious human-rights record and its theft of American jobs. For a generation, prominent Democrats loudly criticized Beijing on these fronts, well before Donald Trump helped form a new national consensus on China. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have been longstanding China trade hawks, for instance. Even a socialist like Bernie Sanders has been a reliable critic.
And Joe Biden? Well, he’s on China’s side — not yours.
Despite the occasional box-checking, wishy-washy comment slapping Beijing on the wrist for the worst of its abuses, the reality is that the former vice president’s support of the People’s Republic of China is deep and longstanding. In the critical fight over whether to grant most-favored-nation trade status and World Trade Organization membership to China in the 1990s — a fight in which, again, many of his party’s leaders in Congress were on the right side — Biden carefully shepherded China through the process from his powerful perch as the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Wherever a brake might have been applied — by placing human-rights or labor conditions on most-favored-nation status, for example — Biden voted the measures down and lobbied other senators for Beijing. Unfortunately, China and Biden got their way, and American workers are still suffering from it.
It should have been a warning on more fronts than one when President Obama recruited Biden to his ticket to buttress his credibility on foreign policy; unsurprisingly, there was no about-face on Beijing. As the Chinese Communist Party gained strength and Xi Jinping seized absolute power, Biden continued to push for closer ties and even more trade. As for American workers? In February 2012, in friendly remarks with Xi standing next to him, Biden praised Beijing as a “new partner” that would help to meet “global challenges,” and said Americans “welcome this competition. . . . It pushes our companies to develop better products and services and our government to craft better policies.” Millions of American jobs were disappearing as he spoke, and the militarization of the South China Sea was just around the corner.
While warmer ties with China were devastating American workers and threatening our national security, they have been very good for the Biden family. Reporters thought it unusual when Hunter Biden, Biden’s prodigal son, accompanied him on a trip to Beijing in 2013. That same year, Hunter joined the board of a Shanghai-based private equity firm. In 2017, a few months after his father left office, he invested a substantial chunk of his own money in the company. We don’t know what he’s made off the deal, but I expect Hunter is doing better than laid-off workers in Arkansas or Delaware. Must be nice.
Now Biden’s back on the campaign trail, and no one could be more thrilled than the Chinese Communist Party. (A Forbes headline last year summed up the situation well: “Joe Biden Is the Only Man Who Can Save China in 2020.”) Biden’s announcement of his campaign alone was enough to encourage Beijing suddenly to take a harder line on trade negotiations with the Trump administration. As Biden’s star seemed to fade, China suddenly got easier to deal with, striking a “Phase 1” deal with us in January. It’s a safe prediction that they are about to take a tougher line again. Meanwhile, Biden offers gems like these on the campaign trail. From May: “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man. They’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.” And just the next month: “Our workers are literally three times as productive as workers . . . in Asia. So what are we worried about?”
I’ve worked extensively with Democrats on China — with Chuck Schumer on cracking down on Chinese fentanyl trafficking, with Chris Van Hollen and numerous others on Huawei’s threat to the world’s telecommunications infrastructure. I don’t exactly hear Biden hammering on these important issues on the campaign trail. And when a few weeks ago President Trump acted to impose travel restrictions on China as a consequence of its abysmal handling of the Wuhan coronavirus, Biden was right there and ready to act as Beijing’s lawyer, slamming the policy as “hysterical xenophobia.” Now, even the New York Times concedes that these measures bought the United States valuable time to prepare for an epidemic.
Since 2015, Democrats have claimed hysterically that Donald Trump is a Russian agent. On the other hand, it’s ridiculous to say Biden is a Chinese asset — if he were, his handler would tell him to oppose China here and there to build credibility. But China can count on Joe Biden always to take China’s side.
The competition between the United States and China, strategic and economic, will define the next century for our nation. We will need to be led by presidents for whom there’s no question as to which side they are on.
By Tom Cotton