May 21, 2020 - World

U.S.-China rivalry chips away at global order

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opened a press conference on Wednesday with a remarkable statement: "The media’s focus on the current pandemic risks missing the bigger picture of the challenge that’s presented by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Why it matters: In the midst of a global crisis with more than 300,000 dead and no end in sight, American foreign policy seems absorbed with China's actions at the start of the outbreak, rather than a global effort to contain and eventually end it.

  • Anger over China's slow and secretive response clearly extends beyond Washington, and 62% of Americans now consider China "unfriendly" or an "enemy," according to a Morning Consult poll. That anger is already a core feature of President Trump's re-election campaign.
  • Some of America's allies, notably Australia, have joined the call for more accountability for China in international institutions like the United Nations and World Health Organization.
  • But another sentiment is bubbling up in Washington: that the international system has been so toothless in the face of China's transgressions, and so warped by China's participation in it, that it's time for America to walk away.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who is often floated as a 2024 presidential prospect, gave voice to that view in a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

  • He argued that the existing global order served America's interests through the end of the Cold War, but has more recently come to facilitate China's rise.
  • Maintaining it now, Hawley contended, would doom America to “second place to the imperialists in Beijing.”

Hawley's primary target is the World Trade Organization, which admitted China in 2001 in what many hawks now consider the original sin of America's China policy. Hawley has introduced a joint resolution to pull the U.S. out.

  • Hawley's proposal has little chance of passage, and an assortment of trade experts and pro-business groups have warned of dire economic consequences if it did.
  • "Dismantling the WTO would turn the global economy into the Wild West," says Fred Hochberg, former chair of the Export-Import Bank (2009–2017).
  • Hochberg agrees that the WTO needs reform, but says the U.S. has "benefited enormously" from the principles underpinning global trade, which it played a decisive role in shaping.

That's not to say Hawley is merely shouting from the margins. Blowing up multilateral agreements and institutions to thwart China has become central to American foreign policy.

  • Trump has announced a total funding cut to the WHO in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century because the organization has refused to criticize China.
  • On climate change, even some who acknowledge the threat argue the U.S. should not be constrained by international accords that seek sharper reductions from America than from China — still considered a developing nation.
  • On arms control, the U.S. is threatening to walk away from the lone remaining treaty constraining the world's two largest nuclear arsenals unless China — which has one-twentieth as many warheads as the U.S. or Russia — signs on.

Breaking it down: "We have to face the reality that the existing organizations have not kept up with the current challenges," says Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "The World: A Brief Introduction."

  • That's certainly true of the WHO and WTO, he says. "But before you go about ripping them up, you had better be confident that you can replace them with something better."
  • "To begin with the assumption that all is lost and the best way forward is to destroy what exists is the foreign policy equivalent of blowing up Obamacare before you have anything to replace it with," Haass says.

The big picture: The U.S. largely led the world into the current global system. Few countries appear prepared to follow America out of it.

  • That may not matter to Trump. His withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and threats toward the WHO show he's willing to stand alone.
  • And the rhetoric from a number of ambitious Republicans — Hawley, Pompeo, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) — suggests "America First" will live on beyond the current administration.

The bottom line: The stage is set for a momentous debate: Is abandoning the existing global order the only way to halt America's decline, as Hawley argues — or would it only hasten it?

Go deeper

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

New Zealand has only eight active novel coronavirus cases and no COVID-19 patients in hospital after another day of zero new infections. However, the death toll rose to 22.

Zoom in: A top health official told a briefing a 96-year-old woman "was regarded to having recovered from COVID-19 at the time of her death, and COVID-19 is not recorded as the primary cause of her death on her death certificate." But it was decided to include her in the overall tally of deaths related to the virus.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 5,690,951 — Total deaths: 355,575 — Total recoveries — 2,350,071Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 1,699,073 — Total deaths: 100,396 — Total recoveries: 391,508 — Total tested: 15,192,481Map.
  3. Public health: CDC issues guidelines for reopening officesFauci says data is "really quite evident" against hydroxychloroquine.
  4. States: California hospitals strained by patients in MexicoTexas Supreme Court blocks mail-in expansion to state voters.
  5. Business: MGM plans to reopen major Las Vegas resorts in June — African American business owners have seen less relief from PPP, Goldman Sachs says.
  6. Tech: AI will help in the pandemic — but it might not be in time for this one.
  7. World: EU proposes a massive pandemic rescue package.
  8. 1 🎶 thing: Local music venues get rocked by coronavirus.
  9. 🎧 Podcast: Trump vs. Twitter ... vs. Trump.
  10. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  11. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 43 mins ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

More than 100,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins — a milestone that puts the death toll far beyond some of the most tragic events in U.S. history.

By the numbers: Over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Nearly 354,000 Americans have recovered and over 15.1 million tests have been conducted. California became the fourth state with at least 100,000 reported cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, along with Illinois, New Jersey and New York.