We know right now that China is facing an existential crisis where its own government seems hellbent on denying healthcare to millions while urging tens of millions to work in conditions that can barely be called safe given how many cases of the coronavirus have been found outside of Wuhan. As harsh as our capitalism is, it still leaves some room for safety. I don't see the Chinese government adopting a "stay at home until we beat this thing" strategy except where the virus is running rampant.
I don't mean to conflate loss of life with politics, here or there, but as poorly as their domestic policy is faring, including keeping out most of the medical help America offers while blaming us for not offering any, the Chinese are about to be handed a stunning defeat at the ballot box, the New Hampshire ballot box that is.
When the voters go to the polls in the Granite State they are expected to overwhelmingly vote for Bernie Sanders and when they do - whether they know it or not - they will be advancing the candidacy of a man who makes President Trump look like a dove on China. In a strange bit of fate, the Chinese "long game" may have run into an immovable object, not one, but two candidates who want very much to punish China. Trump's use of tariffs and tweets have had a pretty telling impact on China and brought them to the table for a Phase One agreement that does open doors for U.S. companies trying to do fair business there. If you read the 100-plus page agreement you will see many opportunities for all sorts of businesses, and if the Chinese live up to the agreement there should be a curing of the vicious trade imbalance between our two countries. If they don't, then the $375 billion in current tariffs don't come off. Last week's Chinese tariff cuts are a sign of the agreement's effectiveness.
But make no mistake about it, Sanders is so much more harsh on China that the Chinese would do well to call Facebook (FB) and put as many pro-Trump ads on Instagram as they can get away with. Sanders doesn't want to have a better trade deal with China. If you read his statements you can surmise that he wants to roll back the entire trade agreements we have ever had and go to a pre-Nixon strategy, where we shut the Chinese down to protect the American worker. He has consistently opposed all trade agreements with China and, unlike Trump, he doesn't want those Chinese jobs to go anywhere but China. He wants them here or else. He regards any encouragement of trade with China as a sellout of the American worker on the altar of the almighty dollar. He knows the Chinese have targeted many industries here and have destroyed millions of jobs and sent others packing to China so companies can make more money because of cheaper labor.
He's China's worst economic nightmare.
But it's not just trade that distinguishes Bernie. He's the hardest liner on Chinese aggression toward its minorities. "China is engaged in a program of mass internment and cultural genocide against the Uighurs." He also wants to support the human rights of the people of Hong Kong against a repressive PRC.
In other words he's more staunch than Trump against the Chinese economically and he holds a much harder line about free speech and repression in the PRC.
I know it seems odd when President Trump says Xi is a great friend. But maybe it shouldn't be. When Sanders wins tomorrow night as he did four years ago against Hillary Clinton, we will begin to hear a more fleshed out version of his China stance - the candidates have all said little about foreign policy so far.
The best hope for the Chinese was a Joe Biden win in New Hampshire. But after Iowa that looks increasingly unlikely. The Chinese have to hope that Sanders will show mercy because of the coronavirus. Otherwise anyone playing the long game in China will have to be supporting Trump. I say "anyone" because it is getting harder and harder to believe that President Xi can survive a one-two coronavirus Sanders nomination. Who in the Politburo could have foreseen that Trump would be the softee? Certainly not Xi.
I think someone will have to be sacrificed because of this huge political mistake by the Chinese. And it won't be someone we have never heard of. It will be Xi himself unless he helps Trump defeat Sanders.
What an amazing twist of fate and miscalculation: these two aren't strange bedfellows, they are insanely strange and bizarre and, yes, unthinkable during any era since Nixon opened the door so many years ago.