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Boycotting China is not that easy

More Americans are wondering what our future economic relationship with China should be

China’s various human rights abuses, their treatment of women, their savagery toward religious people and their chokehold on Taiwan and Hong Kong, has long made them a target for economic boycotts by Westerners. But executing a successful one is exceedingly difficult to achieve. 

In 2003, disappointed that the George W. Bush administration reaffirmed their ‘One China’ policy in regards to Taiwan, I launched my own boycott of Chinese goods. It was difficult but felt worthwhile to spend extra time looking for the ‘made in’ label on goods I was buying. 

And then I needed a shower curtain. I visited store after store and could not find one made anywhere except in China. I lived without a curtain for months before giving in and buying a Chinese-made one. My boycott was over. I had failed. 

Even before COVID-19 hit our shores, our relationship with China was strained. Donald Trump won the presidency in part because he promised to make our trade relationship with China ‘fair’ through the use of tariffs. Whether the tariffs did that is up for debate, but the conversation — that China was cheating us somehow — was brought home to all Americans. 


Now with the coronavirus pandemic, more Americans are wondering what our future economic relationship with China should be. A new survey by Washington-based FTI Consulting found that 40 percent of Americans say they won’t buy goods made in China. 

Of course, answering a poll question and actually doing the work of avoiding Chinese goods are two separate things. But unlike my 2003 conundrum, avoiding Chinese goods is far easier today. Google ‘Shower curtain made in USA’ and you’ll get millions of results including, of course, from Amazon. 

There’s a lot of evidence that China concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak from the World Health Organization at first. Therefore it’s only right that the world should be angry. China currently maintains that their total COVID-19 death rate is fewer than 5,000 people. This number, lower than for countries with a fraction of China’s population, seems more than a little suspect. 

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During a recent briefing President Trump said, ‘Their numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side, and I’m being nice when I say that.’ Meanwhile Sen. Ben Sasse released a statement being less nice, saying bluntly:

‘The claim that the United States has more coronavirus deaths than China is false. Without commenting on any classified information, this much is painfully obvious: The Chinese Communist party has lied, is lying, and will continue to lie about coronavirus to protect the regime. Beijing’s garbage propaganda shouldn’t be taken seriously by the World Health Organization, by independent journalists, or by the American epidemiologists who are going to beat this terrible virus.’

Their lies exposed the world to the deadly virus, sure, but does that mean Americans will stop buying electronics such as iPhones, which are primarily assembled in China? It’s hard to see a future where they will, unless companies see pressure from consumers to depart China as a manufacturing base. Americans will also have to face the fact that they would have to pay more for their products if they were to be manufactured outside China. Perhaps in an age of pandemic Americans will be ready to do that work and pay the price. But memories are short: if it doesn’t happen now, China can be certain its future trade with America is secure and it won’t happen at all.


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