While China’s no-tolerance policy on Covid has served it well so far, there are very real risks to the strategy the country has pursued so far.
As the University of Pennsylvania’s Ezekiel Emanuel and a colleague argue in the New York Times, the emergence of the much more transmissible Omicron variant may mean that China’s effort to date – laboring hard to seal off the country from the virus – may have set the nation up for disaster.
The Republicans’ fifth brigade
But one can always rely on the U.S. Supreme Court – now firmly a bastion of Republican partisan political action – to score one against the home team.
In mid-January, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down with a vote of the court’s six Republican Party justices, the Biden Administration’s rule that large U.S. companies must require covid vaccination or testing for employees.
Forget public health
According to the justices’ opinion, although “Congress has indisputably given the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly.”
That is a dangerously doctrinaire reading of the statutes of the agency whose legal competencies the Biden Administration relied on to advance vaccination rates across the United States.
Operating under a political mandate
In a way, this decision by the Supreme Court was to be expected. Anyone looking at the vaccination rates in the U.S. can see immediately that vaccination rates are dangerously low in Republican-governed states.
Apparently, the suggestion from the Republican side is that from now on, there should be an asterisk after the H in OSHA (as in Occupational Safety and Health Administration).
Why stop there?
The new decision gives the court sweeping new scope to further restrict the ability of the executive branch to govern.
Any worker in the United States who cares – or dares – to file an OSHA complaint after the excruciatingly fast-paced, digitized demands of Amazon’s stocking shelf robots gave him or her a heart attack on the warehouse floor must think twice.
Such a worker must hope that Amazon’s company’s defense counsel in the trial won’t characterize that heart attack as a health issue.
The real problem with the Republican campaign to use the Supreme Court as a tool in their quiver is that the court has actually handed the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) a blueprint for sidelining the United States.
Nothing has astonished Chinese analysts as much as the catastrophic covid-19 death toll in America. Not unreasonably, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has characterized U.S. handling of Covid-19 as a total failure.
Counting the dead China’s leading team of propagandists has a point — the U.S. has suffered 262 covid deaths per 100,000. This compares with a rate of 0.35 per 100,000 in China.
Up to this writing, over 850,000 Americans have died of Covid-19, compared with fewer than 5,000 Chinese. The SCOTUS decision helps guarantee the U.S. won’t fare much better in the next pandemic.
The Taiwan connection
Let’s tease out how this makes a difference to Taiwan. Reunification is a long-standing priority of President Xi. After sending a record number of military jets through the island’s defense zone, Xi declared last October reunification must be fulfilled.
What, then, keeps China from acting?
Not every PLA general is a reckless warrior. Take Xu Qiliang, the First Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), who is the China’s senior-most serving soldier. Xi sent Xu to discuss common defense priorities with Jim Mattis in 2018.
Xu vs. Li
But there are other members on the Central Military Commission. Li Zuocheng was appointed by Xi to serve as Chief of the PLA’s General Staff and commander of the PLA Ground Force in 2015.
Li celebrated China’s May 2020 crackdown in Hong Kong by announcing China would resolutely smash any separatist moves by Taiwan.
Apart from the dramatic language, the threat against separatist moves – which might include inconvenient election results – sounded to some like a significant change in goalposts for the prodigal island.
China war-gaming the U.S.
The CMC has a Political Work Department, Politics and Legal Affairs Commission, Science and Technology Commission, and Office for Strategic Planning for a reason.
It is to help decide whether the military professionals or the political warriors have the better argument each day. SCOTUS has now given ideologues like Li just such an argument.
China conducts gain-of-function research on viruses to understand dangerous viral mutations just as much as is done in the United States.
Were a traveler from China to release a nasty bug in the United States, the U.S. population can expect just as much paralyzing dysfunction to follow that release as we have experienced over the last two years.
Such an attack would be potentially more potent because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s act of undermining the public health shield of the United States.
A virus impairing Taiwan
More important even than the public health impact of a new virus, however, would be the political rancor that it would ignite.
And the ensuing political rancor would not only further undermine the societal integrity of the United States. It could also very well impede the U.S. from fulfilling its defense promises to Taiwan.
This is why if the U.S. can’t defend itself against the future outbreak of an enhanced virus, the cost of invading Taiwan goes down significantly. Plenty of people on staff at the CMC are studying these political and policy linkages.
Not in their wildest dreams did the members of China’s Central Military Commission ever dream of the United States Supreme Court becoming their most potent in-country ally inside the United States in the quest to hollow out the virus preparedness of their foremost adversary.
Remember this: The next time America sneezes, Taiwan might catch an occupation.
Not in their wildest dreams did China’s military ever dream of the U.S. Supreme Court becoming their most potent in-country ally inside the US to hollow out the virus preparedness of their foremost adversary.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision has handed the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) a blueprint for sidelining the United States. Xi Jinping must love it.
Were a traveler from China to release a nasty bug in the United States, the U.S. population would suffer potentially – because the U.S. Supreme Court actively undermines the public health shield of the United States.
The Republican-dominated U.S. Supreme Court is actively undermining the public health shield of the United States. That is all the more stunning as the vaccination rates in the U.S. are dangerously low in Republican-governed states.
The U.S. has suffered 262 covid deaths per 100,000. This compares with a rate of 0.35 per 100,000 in China. So far, over 850,000 Americans have died of Covid-19, compared with fewer than 5,000 Chinese.
Co-Founder, GoalScreen LLC David Apgar is the author of Risk Intelligence: Learning to Manage What We Don’t Know (Harvard Business, 2006) and Relevance: Hitting Your Goals By Knowing What Matters (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Both books are based on ten years of best practices research for corporate finance teams as a managing director at the Corporate Executive […]