First, the policy. The implication of Biden’s new ad is that China didn’t give Trump timely information about the COVID-19 outbreak, because Trump wasn’t tough enough on China’s leaders. The commercial mocks Trump’s praise for Xi Jinping and is filled with supposedly damning images of Trump and Xi together. By contrast, it shows Biden vowing, “I would be on the phone with China making it clear: We are going to need to be in your country. You have to be open. You have to be clear. We have to know what’s going on.” In other words, Biden would boss the Chinese around.
This is a jingoistic fantasy. China is a rival superpower run by an authoritarian and fiercely nationalistic regime. Biden can’t force it to comply. When Beijing has given the United States valuable information about virus outbreaks in the past, it’s because American presidents spent time and money building joint U.S.-Chinese initiatives and took pains to make China’s leaders feel like equals. In 2009, Biden’s then-boss, Barack Obama, stood on a stage with the Chinese leader Hu Jintao in Beijing—in the kind of scene Biden mocks in his ad—and said the two governments should “build upon our mutual interests and engage on the basis of equality and mutual respect.” The two leaders announced that they would “deepen cooperation on global public health issues, including Influenza A (H1N1) prevention, surveillance, reporting and control.” As the Rand Corporation’s Jennifer Huang Bouey has noted, this cooperation hastened the development of an H1N1 vaccine. In suggesting that Biden could bludgeon China into submission—in a phone call, no less—the Biden campaign is peddling a lie about how public-health cooperation with China actually works.