Liberals and liberal institutions feel understandable discomfort in portraying China as an enemy, since this is what Trump has done—often with considerable resort to xenophobia and without distinguishing between the Chinese regime and the Chinese people. To attack and focus attention on China also runs the risk of boosting the Trump administration’s narrative that China is America’s new enemy. That Trump might be right on one thing is certainly possible, but that doesn’t make the idea of agreeing with him any less uncomfortable.
This can sometimes lead to a moral equivalence, where the United States, under Trump, is relegated to the same plane as the Chinese regime on issues such as digital surveillance. It follows, then, that trying to exclude Chinese technology from American networks and markets would be the height of hypocrisy, as Sam Biddle has argued in The Intercept. This summer, Trump’s efforts to pry the popular app TikTok away from its China-based parent company prompted the writer (and former Times editorial-board member) Sarah Jeong to wonder, “‘Is the United States better, worse, or the same as China?’ … In 2020, this is becoming a genuinely difficult question to answer.” After all, Jeong reasoned, “China brutally represses its political dissidents; in America, law enforcement in military camouflage have grabbed protesters off the streets and shoved them into unmarked vans.”