Colorado, Coronavirus, and Communists

At this point in the coronavirus crisis, several things should be clear. Among them is the fact that this country’s and, particularly, Colorado’s relationship with the Chinese government is no longer satisfactory.

From the beginning, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has lied about what it knew, arrested or disappeared whistleblowers and journalists who sought to bring the extent of the problem to public attention, and suppressed scientific evidence needed to fight the virus.

For an extended period of time, it refused to allow either World Health Organization (WHO) officials or U.S. public health officials access to data or to visit affected areas. As a result, as late as mid-February the WHO was parroting CCP claims that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission, and even in late January, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the CDC was downplaying the risks to the American public.

It is quite clear, contrary to the promises China made when it was welcomed into the community of nations, that its growing economic clout and prosperity have not led it to become more liberal and westernized. Rather, our growing economic dependence on China has put the Communist dictatorship in a position to export its form of tyranny and potentially to blackmail us.

Consider the eagerness, almost desperation, with which the government of Colorado pursued the purchase of medical personal protective equipment (PPE) from China. This, even after the country’s malicious behavior and the fact that hundreds of thousands of masks and tests sent to European countries were flawed and defective.

And that’s just masks and test kits. Imagine the effect if China were to obtain a monopoly on a pharmaceutical necessary for the treatment of a significant childhood illness or condition. Imagine the anguish that could cause millions of parents.

Obviously, such a situation must not be allowed to arise, and to the extent it does exist now, it must be mitigated. Without question, a key component in the response to the coronavirus epidemic has to be the rollback of foolish and obstructive regulations that raise the cost of drug discovery and development without providing significant consumer protection.

But it’s not just federal interference that’s causing the problem. There are also steps we can take here Colorado and around the nation to begin to socially distance ourselves from the Chinese Communist Party.

According to the International Trade Administration, Colorado is not particularly dependent on exports to China for its economic well-being. Total exports to the country in 2019 were just $525 million, down from a peak of $676 million in 2012, and accounted for 6.5 percent of total international exports, down from 8.7 percent in 2011 and 8.3 percent in 2015. That accounts for less than 1 percent of Colorado’s total estimated state GDP of $60.6 billion.

So what can Colorado do? Three things immediately come to mind.

First, close down the Confucius Institutes on our college campuses. Both the Community College of Denver and Colorado State University have these Chinese-government run and funded institutes operating on their campuses. In theory, these institutes are an inexpensive way for colleges and universities to expose their students to the Chinese language and culture, certainly a worthwhile endeavor.

Nationally, however, these institutions serve not only to promote CCP propaganda concerning their own country, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, they also spy on Chinese nationals attending these schools.

In Australia, Confucius Institutes have been used to break up anti-CCP demonstrations on campus. It should be the obligation of the school to provide language and cultural courses, not to outsource them to a hostile government. Since both campuses are public schools, eliminating them should pose no legal hurdles.

Second, institute a thorough investigation to determine that any public university or college professors, or professors at institutions receiving public funds, are fully accounting for any relationships and income they may have from Chinese research or educational institutions.

Recently, several professors at Harvard, Boston University, and a Boston hospital were charged with lying about income from activities in mainland China. Lying makes them vulnerable to blackmail. It also could provide cover for transfer of sensitive technology and research without the knowledge of the United States. The state of Colorado must act to make sure that its schools and research facilities are not similarly compromised.

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, we should look to divest from holdings in Chinese companies. I do not make this suggestion lightly. As a longtime observer of the state’s public pensions, I’m well aware of the fiduciary responsibility that the board and the investment team has to the plan’s retirees. In recent years, the board fended off similar restrictions with respect to Iran by promising to adopt its own policy.

Our dealings with China are too important to be left with a potential conflict of interest. The legislature should act to make sure that we never have a situation where Chinese interests will be represented through the investments of our own public servants’ pensions.

It’s true that, for the most part, states are on the sidelines when it comes to foreign policy. Colorado’s relationship with China gives it a unique opportunity to do its part to isolate a dangerous and malevolent regime. Other states would do well to follow suit.

Photo: Willie Siau/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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