To many of us, it was obvious from the outset that COVID-19 was a "Chinese Chernobyl."
Regardless of whether the virus has as its provenance a zoonotic transmission at a wet market or an "escape" from the Wuhan Institute of Virology — to say nothing of the low, but still non-negligible, possibility that it was intentionally developed and weaponized as a bioweapon — the CCP's gross negligence, recklessness and, indeed, malice all contributed to an initially localized virus metastasizing into a crippling global phenomenon.
The story is, by now, a familiar one: The CCP responded to the initial outbreak in Wuhan by arresting and muzzling scientists, suppressing journalistic investigation and actively disseminating disinformation to the World Health Organization and other transnational institutions.
As a study from Britain's University of Southampton concluded well over a year ago, proper Chinese government intervention at the virus' onset might have reduced its ultimate spread by as much as 95%.
If American-led investigations credibly conclude that the virus was intentionally developed and weaponized as a Chinese bioweapon, then even the most dovish of foreign policy hands will be forced to conclude that a formal declaration of war must be considered. The U.S. death toll for COVID-19 is approaching 600,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard. This dwarfs the Pearl Harbor death toll (2,403) that galvanized America's entry into World War II.
War with a great power of China's stature is naturally a horrific prospect: "A 2019 University of Sydney study warned that China's missile force could neutralize most American Western Pacific assets within hours after war's outbreak," wrote David P. Goldman last year in the Claremont Review of Books. We can take some solace in the knowledge that evidence for the "intentional bioweapon" theory remains scant.
The relevant question is thus what the U.S., and by extension the rest of the free world, should do if either of the two other virus origin theories is verified.
It is important to mind the broader geopolitical context. The CCP runs a rogue, sordid authoritarian regime. It is actively committing genocide, under the internationally accepted definition of the term, in Xinjiang province. It runs a surveillance state straight out of Orwell's "1984," manipulates its currency, steals huge quantities of intellectual property and is a serial human rights abuser, cracking down on the practice of nontraditional Chinese religions in draconian fashion while forcibly sterilizing women under its sequential inhumane one-child and two-child policies. In retrospect, it is clear that the past half-century's ushering of China into the neoliberal order's economic and financial institutions was a monumental mistake. Attempts at economic liberalization have not, in fact, led to political liberalization.
The aftermath of COVID-19 is the perfect opportunity for the U.S. to lead a global rebuke and rectify the past half-century's giant mistake. The U.S. must lead a coalition of like-minded nations to impose punitive tariffs and crippling sanctions on the CCP and its many minions. The U.S. must also be unapologetic in using state power, if need be, to prevent its corporations from doing business in China. This can probably come from the executive branch, though Congress will also need to get involved for there to be meaningful teeth.
Another intriguing possibility — admittedly a better fit for a weaponized bioweapon scenario, but still arguably apropos in other scenarios — is to formally label China a state sponsor of terrorism under extant law, which would have the incidental effect of precluding U.S. corporations from entangling themselves there.
The U.S. should also attempt to lead an international consortium that attempts to quantify the harm done by the CCP's disastrous mishandling of the virus, securing reparations in the form of monetary payments to victims' families and/or sovereign debt forgiveness. And if China does not oblige, the U.S. can lead a multinational effort to seize Chinese assets en masse.
The threat posed by the People's Republic of China is this century's greatest challenge confronting the U.S. and the West, more broadly. Properly meeting that challenge necessarily entails making China pay for the destruction it has wrought with the COVID-19 global meltdown.