Apr 1, 2020 - World

D.C.'s bipartisan China consensus may be unraveling

Illustration of the U.S. Capitol

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

For more than two years, Republicans and Democrats have more or less agreed the U.S. needs a China policy that acknowledges Beijing's hard authoritarian turn and the serious challenge China's growing power presents to U.S. interests.

Why it matters: The coronavirus crisis is threatening that consensus. The wedge driving Democrats and Republicans apart is concern about racism.

  • Republicans believe China is to blame for the global pandemic, and they worry that Beijing's propaganda campaign aims to erase the truth about China's early cover-up.
  • But Democrats say that emphasizing the coronavirus' links to China inflames racism against Asian Americans and that it's a cover for the Trump administration's own mishandling of the epidemic.

What's happening: Furor over a bipartisan resolution in the House last week demonstrated the growing divide.

  • The resolution, spearheaded by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), demanded that leaders in Beijing "publicly state that there's no evidence that COVID–19 originated anywhere else but China" — a reference to a disinformation campaign led by Chinese diplomats alleging the U.S. military created the virus.
  • The resolution avoided controversial phrases such as "Chinese virus" or "Wuhan virus." It also condemned the expulsion of American journalists from China and its mass internment of Muslim ethnic minorities.
  • Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), the lone Democratic signatory on the resolution, retracted his support after coming under heavy criticism from primary challengers and Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.).

What they're saying:

  • Chu: "During a pandemic like this, people are afraid and angry, and directing that anger towards China puts [Asian American and Pacific Islanders] at risk, as we have already seen with the insults and assaults against them."
  • Moulton: "The resolution has caused division, the substance overshadowed by President Trump's divisive, xenophobic attempts to deflect from his administration's abysmal response to this virus. ... I apologize for that, and I am withdrawing my support for the resolution."

The big picture: That Democrats strongly opposed a resolution condemning well-known Chinese government missteps and human rights violations suggests that China is swiftly becoming a partisan issue.

Yes, but: The bipartisan status quo might return after the intense pressure of the coronavirus crisis has passed.

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