At this point, I think we all can agree that we are all either sick, tired, or both about this COVID lockdown. We all long for the day when we can gather as a group of people, go back to work, or simply walk around without fear of killing our loved ones. However, while we are all cooped up and not allowed to interact with anyone outside our immediate household, it has allowed us to plan what changes we will make once we are finally out of this situation. It’s almost as if the global community is going to be given its own chance at a New Year’s Resolution. Governments will spend tremendous amounts of money trying to ensure that this never happens again. The UN and the WHO (World Health Organization) will put out guidelines that a handful of countries will follow. Hospitals around the world will begin to stockpile supplies in anticipation of having to go through something like this again.
However, this also gives the world a chance to rethink its stance on the global economy, and to where a lot of the money goes. China. Now, before we get into this, let me say straight away that I don’t believe that we should be calling this disease the China Virus, the Kung Flu, or (as some completely misguided change.org petition put it), the Wu-Tang Flu. I do believe it was fine for President Trump to call it the China Virus in response to China attempting to lay blame at the United States military. But this shouldn’t be a refrain we hear moving forward. Political pundits, regular civilians, and even the President himself should probably stop using these names. The point was made, and if China backs off the finger pointing, so should we.
However, we should keep in mind the origins of this virus, and the Chinese government’s complete inability, or in all likelihood unwillingness, to handle the situation immediately. There are estimates by the WHO that had China acted immediately, they could have limited the spread of the virus by up to 95 percent. This is, of course, regardless of who is to blame for the start of it. Even if it was the American government (it wasn’t) who started this, the Chinese government could have halted this before the spread got too far.
By now, we should all be familiar with the story of Li Wenliang, the Chinese physician who tried to warn other physicians about the virus. Li was, of course, silenced by the Chinese government, and eventually contracted and died from the coronavirus. And just in case you think this is an isolated incident by the Chinese government, look at what happened just a few weeks ago. China decided to throw out all of the American journalists from its borders, and magically, the number of cases went down. Unencumbered by those who would expose the truth, China likely decided to stop mass testing so they could claim that they have controlled the spread of the virus. In fact, China’s self-reported data shows that the total number of new cases each day was down to 25. That’s really easy to achieve when you aren’t testing anyone. China began reopening its economy, only to have to reclose many sites a short time later. You see? China wants its citizens and, in fact, all people to understand that everything is under control, and that there is nothing to worry about. They are literally repeating the same mistakes they made only a few months ago.
China is the second-largest economy in the world, and because of that fact, it rarely has to answer for the vast amounts of human rights violations, and the illegal procurement of intellectual property belonging to American (and probably other countries’) businesses. We often think of the brutality of the Chinese government by how it encourages sweatshops and how they monitor and censor their own citizens; but in case you were interested in a mostly ignored section of China, and how far the government goes to ensure it maintains its power, I urge you to read the New York Times’ story on the Uighur Muslims in the northwestern regions of the country.
It is for all of these reasons that it’s more obvious than ever that we need to begin the process of attacking the Chinese economy. We need to send a message to the Chinese government that their practices are not okay. The human rights violations have to stop. The mass theft of protected intellectual property cannot continue. And the willful allowance of a global pandemic that could have easily been halted before it started will not go ignored. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the explosive debates that continue to rage between China and territories such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. I don’t know enough about those to continue writing about them. I just know that by calling them “territories” I definitely offended one side.
Most of us reading this article are fully aware of the BDS movement and how it attacks Israel for mostly false and misleading talking points. And there is no question that the BDS movement is waged with anti-Semitic roots and subtext. For instance, the BDS movement attacks companies that are not only based in the West Bank, but are actively seeking to destroy any businesses owned by Israeli companies based anywhere. It’s not about the supposed “occupied territories”; it is about Jewish rights to the land.
It is with this in mind that we must be sure that the creation of a new movement to battle the Chinese government is clear that we are not fighting with the Chinese people. There should be no action taken against Chinese citizens or Chinese nationals. We also must be aware that no Chinese Americans are to be targeted at all, and anyone who attempts to extend these pressures to anyone else must be punished severely.
While the BDS movement attacks Israel from three fronts – Boycott (individual citizens), Divest (companies), and Sanction (governments), I think the attack against the Chinese economy has to start with Divestments. American companies who currently do a large amount of business in China have to now start to move the manufacturing elsewhere. These are the Silicon Valley tech companies, the toy companies, the clothing manufacturers, the automobile manufacturers, and all of the companies who deal in textiles. A proper divestment means moving out of China. Now ideally, I’d want them to move their manufacturing to America, but I am aware that the cost will be prohibitive. But there are other countries that can offer something close to what China has. I am not saying that the human rights are better in Bangladesh and India than they are in China, but at least those countries didn’t just destroy half the world’s economy, and to my knowledge aren’t trying to steal intellectual property. The NBA has to stop treating China the way we saw in October of 2019. The WWE has to stop touring there. I wouldn’t be sad if the International Olympic Committee declined China’s ability to send athletes. All of these large companies have to step up.
And it’s not like they don’t have incentives to do this either. This is now the second time in recent history that a major virus has halted supply chains coming out of China. The SARS virus did the same thing 18 years ago. Companies should be wary of trusting a country where these things are bound to happen every few years or so. They should want to move their manufacturing base anyway.
As for the name of this movement, we shouldn’t call it “BDS,” as that has too many connotations already. I think something simple like “Chinese Divestment” should work. I am not calling for sanctions or for individual boycotts (though if you want to stop watching NBA games until they break off of China, I’m totally fine with that); so for now: just the Divestment part. If it grows, all the better. There is no question that China needs to be punished for this, and a Divestment movement is just what it needs.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.