The New York Times editorial board published a piece last weekend that shows a worrying bias for America’s greatest foe: the Chinese Communist Party.
The piece, titled “Who Benefits From Confrontation With China,” is a masterclass in misdirection and falsehood. If it were not published in America’s “paper of record,” it would be just as at home in China Daily.
Arguing that Americans must avoid a “glib” and “misguided” cold war narrative, the editorial seeks a policy of “emphasizing competition with China while minimizing confrontation.” The line mimics CCP agitprop and ignores geopolitical realities. The editorial board frames the rising tensions between China and the United States as primarily the fault of American politicians — particularly in the Republican Party — who are hyperbolizing the danger from the CCP.
In reality, the U.S. has been far too soft on China throughout the 21st century, with each presidential administration doing its part. Former President George W. Bush brought China into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Former President Barack Obama studiously avoided conflict with the CCP. Former President Donald Trump put trade pressure on Beijing while simultaneously praising Chinese President Xi Jinping’s life tenure, and President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden, and his family have financial ties to the Chinese regime.
Despite two decades of favorable or neutral treatment, China has consistently provoked and aggrieved its neighbors and the U.S.-led world order. China has militarized the South China Sea — an international waterway. It has used civilian fishing fleets as cover for military actions. It has waged brutal battles against Indian soldiers for control of disputed territory high in the Himalayas. It has, at best, covered up the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic and, at worst, deliberately released it from a virology lab. And, most recently, it floated a spy balloon across the entirety of the continental United States, including our sensitive military sites. This is not mere friendly competition.
The editorial uses various tropes commonplace among CCP apologists, all meant to downplay or excuse the malign actions of the Chinese government and shift the narrative in Beijing’s favor.
First, the editorial board claims the U.S. must reduce tensions with China because the relationship economically benefits both countries. But the United States does not benefit like China does. China abuses its economic power to stifle competition, promotes the “digital fentanyl” of TikTok to America’s youth, and steals important intellectual property — most often in the military realm. The New York Times-owned magazine published an incredible exposé on Chinese government industrial espionage only a few days before this major editorial.
Second, the editors mention that the U.S. needs China to combat climate change, or else the whole planet is doomed. Setting climate change science aside, they presume Beijing will act in good faith. China has massively accelerated its construction and use of coal-fired power plants — a fuel source that activists including Swedish truant Greta Thunberg protest against in nations like Germany. The editorial board has previously excoriated Republicans for not doing enough on climate while ignoring China’s actions.
Third, the editors argue that China “continues to show strikingly little interest in persuading other nations to adopt its social and political values.” They claim, then, that China is not a threat on par with the Soviet Union.
But Xi has consistently sought to export the “China model” abroad, specifically stating as much in official communiqués. American experts, including Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations, have proven that China exports its ideology. Budding authoritarians the world over salivate at the totalitarian information control that the CCP exerts at home, while still advancing the basic standard of living to forestall popular revolt.
Fourth, the editorial board claims that anti-American sentiment does not unite Chinese political leaders. This is a page torn right from the old pro-Iran playbook, in the purported split between “moderates” and “hardliners.” As with Iran, the dichotomy does not apply to China. Xi’s increasingly personal rule has cemented that fact. Just before the editorial’s publication, Xi was given a third term as Chinese dictator — effectively making him ruler for life. The vote was a foregone conclusion as were the appointments of his allies to all key positions in China’s government. There are no “moderates” in charge of China, and The New York Times would do well to note that.
The editorial board’s fifth and last pro-engagement argument is that the U.S. cannot “pull back from forums where it has long engaged China,” such as the World Trade Organization. The editors oddly picked the international institution that China has most abused. It has ignored or deliberately broken WTO rules from day one by continuing prohibited policies and refusing to comply with the judgments of trade courts. China has also captured the World Health Organization, which failed to investigate Covid-19’s origins.
American politicians are finally seeing the CCP’s threat to the U.S. But The New York Times views the growing bipartisan consensus on opposing China as the provocation. This purposeful reversal of cause — Chinese malfeasance — and effect — the building bipartisan consensus on China — follows CCP propaganda and aims at turning U.S. policy and public opinion toward a non-confrontational posture.
The editorial board’s pro-CCP bias has many causes, but most revolve around profit. For years, the NYT took money from the Chinese government to run more than 200 propaganda advertorials. The NYT scrubbed those puff pieces from its website in 2020. The articles reached millions of Americans. The immoral editorials did not drive the paper’s profits, though the CCP paid several hundred thousand dollars for them. The key profit motive, subscriber revenue, reinforces the pro-CCP bias.
The NYT maintains and grows its subscriber base by appealing to the professional-managerial class. And that class has the most direct and intricate economic links to China. They would lose the most from an escalation or decoupling, so the editorial board defends the status quo and thus its readership’s bias
Unlike the NYT, the American people are rejecting China as a partner and seeing it as the danger that it is. Since 2020, American public opinion on China has drastically shifted in a negative direction, with most people in both parties viewing Beijing as a threat instead of a partner. Congress has begun to reflect these concerns with the establishment of the House China Committee and efforts to counter CCP influence.
The American people and their representatives have woken up to the China challenge. It is far beyond time we reject the naïve idea of engagement with China and The New York Times editorial board with it.
Mike Coté is a writer and podcaster focusing on history, Great Power rivalry, and geopolitics. He blogs at rationalpolicy.com, hosts the Rational Policy podcast, and can be found on Twitter @ratlpolicy.