The nineteenth century British statesman Lord Palmerston once defended his foreign policy by declaring, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”
His words should be heeded today. When the policies of the past no longer align with the realities of today, they must be reevaluated.
Certainly, the American relationship with the People’s Republic of China demands a reevaluation.
For decades, American leaders promoted closer ties with China and avoided censure of its Communist rulers. This approach was guided by the belief that China’s incorporation into global institutions and markets would encourage the governing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to act more responsibly and in line with our values.
This approach may have seemed reasonable when it was first adopted, but experience has discredited it.
Over four decades of a normalized relationship have not resulted in a freer, more open China. On the contrary, the CCP routinely exploits its relationships with Western countries to enrich itself and promote its own power while still engaging in abhorrent human rights practices.
Late last year, I heard testimony in the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health about our worrisome dependence on China for pharmaceutical products. As of August 2019, a significant percentage of active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturers supplying the U.S. market were based in China.
For particular drugs, the percentage made in China can be vastly higher. For example, the country provides nearly 80 percent of the world’s supply of the blood thinner heparin. It developed a stranglehold on the world’s supply of penicillin after a sustained effort to put manufacturers of the antibiotic in other countries out of business.
A subsequent, separate hearing of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations focused on some of the problems that come with this dependence on China for pharmaceutical products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducts inspections of foreign sites that manufacture drugs to be exported here. One story was brought to my attention of an inspector and her translator at a northeastern China site who were locked in a conference room for over an hour. This imprisonment prevented the inspection from taking place.
When eventually inspected, the plant was found to be skipping tests of its products and ingredients and omitting cleaning procedures. The incident was an extreme but indicative example of concerns about poor quality, corruption, and lack of transparency in the parts of the drug supply chain under Chinese control.
The pharmaceutical industry is far from the only one that depends too much on China. Critical minerals are essential to many advanced technologies, including those important to national defense. China dominates the supply of these minerals and has not been afraid to use them as leverage in the past; in 2010, after an incident at sea between the two countries, China limited its export of rare earth elements to Japan.
The CCP’s economic aggression is accompanied by repression and human rights abuses.
When the United Kingdom ceded Hong Kong to China in 1997, China committed to upholding the policy of “one country, two systems,” exercising sovereignty over the territory but respecting the legal and free market institutions and norms it had developed.
But over the past year and a half in particular, the CCP has sought to strip away the liberties enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong. A national security law enacted on June 30 enables Beijing to silence dissent and empower its security agencies in Hong Kong. The law has chilled what had recently been a vocal protest movement for freedom.
The CCP has also oppressed minorities such as the Uyghurs of China’s western regions. Its tools of tyranny include internment camps, forced sterilization, and mass surveillance. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has rightfully called this campaign “the stain of the century.”
It is no longer reasonable to think that China’s Communist rulers will adopt our values. Accommodating them has only weakened our standing in the world.
Our national interests demand a different approach, one that protects our economic interests, diversifies our supply chains or brings them back to the United States, and calls out CCP violations of international agreements and human rights.