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The Fine, or Invisible, Line between a ‘Coherent Approach’ and ‘Feverish Sinophobia’

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) questions David Marcus, head of Facebook’s Calibra, during testimony before a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, July 16, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

One of the lead editorials in the current issue of The Economist:

The world’s democracies desperately need a coherent approach to dealing with China. It is the 21st century’s ascendant power, but also an autocracy that mistrusts free markets and abuses human rights. However, recent events show how ineffective Western policy has become. On December 30th the European Union agreed on an investment pact with China that secured puny gains and gave China a diplomatic coup.

A few pages later in the magazine, a lengthy article discusses Trump’s long-term effect on the GOP:

No one predicted Mr Trump back in 2012. And the disruptive effect of his disregard for conservative verities has probably increased the ideological possibilities on the right. Most of his 16 primary opponents in 2016 spouted similar Reaganite bromides. An equivalent contest today might showcase the pragmatic conservatism of Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, the feverish Sinophobia of Mr Cotton, and the big-government populism of Senator Marco Rubio, all of which have to some degree been shaped or promoted in response to Mr Trump. Yet this happier post-Trump future for the president’s party is so far only a theoretical possibility.

Senator Tom Cotton’s perspective is summarized as “feverish Sinophobia” . . . but a few pages earlier, we’re warned of how China is the ascendant power of this century, is an autocracy that abuses human rights, and Western policy is now really ineffective. Elsewhere in the magazine, they note that the EU made its move despite opposition from the incoming Biden team, and that Congress is struggling to mount an effective effort against China’s use of forced labor. Doesn’t all of that sound like something that might warrant some concern and attention, if not phobia?

Yes, there are many ways to address the problems that China’s government and economic power represents, and not all methods will be comparably effective. But you have to look far and wide to find a legislative response to Chinese aggression that Tom Cotton doesn’t support.

Cotton wants more sanctions targeting Chinese officials involved in the crackdown in Hong Kong, to end China’s permanent most-favored-nation status, for the U.S. to welcome Hong Kong residents seeking refuge from Beijing, to block any coronavirus relief from going to any “entity that is under Chinese ownership, control, or influence,” for Chinese companies owned completely or in part by the state to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act — you know, the way former senator Barbara Boxer just did — for the U.S. to offer an invitation to the president of Taiwan to address Congress, to expand the U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific region, to “allow Americans to sue China in federal court to recover damages for death, injury, and economic harm caused by the Wuhan Virus,” to “authorize the president to sanction foreign officials who suppress or distort information about international public health crises,” to keep Huawei Technologies on the Commerce Department trade blacklist and limit waivers, and to restrict Chinese students’ ability to study in STEM fields at American universities. He also refers to SARS-CoV-2 as “the China virus.”

Tom Cotton’s response to China is a metaphorical buffet table of policy options. Just grab a plate, and pick the countermeasures you like best, as tough or as moderated as you like. Maybe you love some of these ideas, and maybe you hate some of them. But Cotton isn’t the obstacle to a “coherent approach to dealing with China.” He’s pushing forward on just about every possible front, trying to turn proposals into reality.

Does the menu of options laid out above represent “feverish Sinophobia”? Or is it something in the ballpark of the “coherent approach to dealing with China” that the editors of The Economist yearn for in that exact issue? Because that editorial on China continues:

In order to limit the perimeter of trade tensions, [the U.S. and Europe] should define sensitive industries, such as technology and defence. In these areas they should subject Chinese participation in Western markets to much tighter scrutiny and restrictions. In other industries trade can flourish unhindered. Democracies should draw up a common framework for human rights, including verifying that supply chains are ethical and penalising people and firms involved in abuses. Finally, any new alliance to deal with China has to have predictable rules and enforcement. It cannot be run from the White House on the fly.

Is Tom Cotton really the problem here? And if he isn’t, why is he getting casually dismissed as a “feverish Sinophobe”?