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Is hawkish adviser Peter Navarro accountable for his role in pandemic response?

05-06    

Hawks are like gatecrashers at the battle against the coronavirus. We know them from previous political dramas. But at a time when we are saving people’s lives and looking for medical supplies, we find them extremely dangerous. One of the infamous and fervent hawkish politicians in the Trump Administration, Peter Navarro, is now in charge of pandemic supplies. Can he get us enough masks in the fastest speed ever with his strong attitude instead of aptitude?

In March, Trump appointed Navarro to enforce the Defense Production Act (DPA), the Korean War–era law that allows the administration to force a company to prioritize government orders in production. In addition to that, he is also the White House trade adviser and the director of Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy. His job includes mainly and the most importantly right now, ordering supplies such as PPE and ventilators that are urgently needed to combat shortages faced by hospitals.

We can assume that he has been doing his job. Meanwhile as a hawk, he never forgets about his prime mission of setting the blame on other countries, such as China. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he accused of China inventing the virus in a lab, spreading it across the globe, hoarding PEE and other supplies and profiting from the crisis. Very recently he just claimed that China has sent low-quality and even fake testing kits to the US. His take on the ongoing pandemic makes China foreign ministry call him a “liar” and the country’s commerce ministry denounce his claims “groundless and irresponsible”.

Navarro has been called worse by his own people. His “nicknames” include “Trump’s looniest economic adviser” by Dealbreaker, “a nut” by a veteran California GOP political consultant, and “the worst possible person to be in charge of pandemic supplies” by Mother Jones. His early political career left him with a dubious reputation, which follows him to his battle field as a China “analyst” (hawk).

Navarro doesn’t appear to speak Chinese and he has not spent a long time in the country nor is he a frequent visitor. But he has written three hawkish books on China. In his Death by China, he accused of Beijing of cheating its way to the global stage, selling dangerous goods to the States and not following global trade regulations. Navarro’s extreme views on China and multilateral trade deals, as well as his warnings about China’s threat to the US somehow encouraged Trump to slap high tariffs, although there were quite a lot of objections from senior advisers.

According to a feature on Navarro in 2017 by Foreign Policy, Navarro is not known and recognized in any China circles. His books are filled with “hyperbole, inaccuracies” and a “cartoonish caricature of China that he puts out.” Regarding his views on trade, in a story from The Atlantic in 2018 referring to him as “madman behind Trump’s trade theory”, economists on both the left and the right see his views as “outdated, misguided, or just plain wrong”.

So, can we rely on such a loony and hawkish politician to build a global supply chain and collect life-saving supplies for us? The job needs personal connections and good diplomatic senses. We have to admit that at this moment, we might still need to import most of critical supplies from foreign nations, especially China. It is the quickest way. Because we have been doing that for a very long time. Statistics show that US imports of Chinese medical equipment increased 78 percent between 2010 and 2018. Our dependence on the manufacturing sector of China is huge. We might want to be independent and have a strong manufacturing sector at home, but it is a long journey and we are running out of time now. We hope our “trade warriors” can start making friends, not wars.

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