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COVID-19 Dispatch: Pete Hoekstra Talks the Threat of a New Cold War

The two greatest superpowers in the world. Two rivals, historically competing against one another, yet deeply dependent on each other in so many ways. Their decisions and actions come with big consequences for all of us. In the past 30 years, the world has witnessed the largest, ever recorded in history, wealth and technology transfer between the two nations. Since the endorsement of the Open Door Policy, Washington has taken strategic measures towards fostering a transatlantic relationship with China. Under Clinton’s presidency, the People’s Republic of China officially joined the WTO in 2001, which has contributed towards the creation of modern global trade, industrial supply chains, and technological innovation. China has surpassed Canada and Mexico, making itself the biggest trading partner to the U.S. Nevertheless, the ideology and values of two political regimes conflict, thus creating barriers for more cooperation rather than a competitive rivalry, especially noting the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

How the situation in the United States is unfolding to date, domestically and beyond, is discussed in the Room for Discussion interview with a Dutch-American politician, Pete Hoekstra, serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands since January 2018. It is a pleasure to have Pete Hoekstra come for a second interview at the Room for Discussion on June 5th. Born in the Netherlands, Hoekstra immigrated to the United States in early childhood. From 1993 to 2011, serving on behalf of the Republican party, Hoekstra was the U.S. Representative for Michigan’s 2nd congressional district. Responding to the past 10 week lockdown in the Netherlands, Hoekstra said that despite missing his family in the States, he noted “Netherlands is not a bad place to be in lockdown,” calling it an “intelligent lockdown.”

The debate starts with Hoekstra talking about the recent wave of mass riots and protests across the U.S., following George Floyd’s death, a case, as decried by the public, involving police brutality and racial discrimination. Specifically, the discussion centres around the Trump administration restoring public order by mobilising the military and whether there will be legal actions taken regarding police brutality. Hoekstra highlights that legal actions and decisions begin locally. In other words, local governors, i.e. mayors, are in control of how demonstrations and riots are held in their communities, and whether to request additional assistance from state officials, e.g supply of state police, or call in the National Guard to restore order. Similarly, the U.S. judiciary follows such a scheme. Furthermore, Hoekstra moves to discussing current measures, associated with police brutality, stating that the administration’s philosophy is firstly to keep the protests within the framework of legality, i.e. preventing damage of public property and looting, injuring others, etc. Secondly, Hoekstra talks about federal government holding enforcement agencies accountable for systematic racism and unfair treatment of Afro-Americans civilians, which is only achieved in conjunction with the Justice Department. The U.S. Ambassador also mentions plans for upcoming research related to police violence, aimed at scrutinising the underlying cause of such behaviour. He has also called for developing broader social reform policies, i.e procedures and re-training schemes that will address the problem.  

The discussion further moves to the U.S. domestic riots and Hong Kong protests in the fall of 2019, particularly comparing the “double standard” aspect of Washington’s support and response to such violent demonstrations. Hoekstra identifies the two phenomena having different political characters. He further explains that it is within the US’s interests when it comes to HK protesters demanding rights to liberty, and living according to the standards agreed upon with China 25 years ago. Conversely, the situation in the US involves similar demands for justice, but current actions taken by the public, e.g. turning a demonstration into looting and mass destruction, are not aligning with “who we are” as  the American society. On a personal note, Hoekstra speaks of his daughter living in Minneapolis, and how she is devastated by the lawless riots of her community. However, she feels much secure in the future of her city when the law and enforcement have come, along with the National Guard, to restore the order. 

From the domestic to foreign outlook, the discussion shifts to the prevailing Sino-U.S. ties following the pandemic. “Chinese Imperialism” poses a major 21st century threat to the US’s national security and position as a world leader, and as Hoekstra puts “we [the U.S] need to confront China.” Hoekstra shares that he voted against China’s entry to the WTO back in 2001. The underlying cause for a constrained transatlantic relationship stems from the polar-opposite economic ideologies, i.e. Beijing’s state-capitalist oriented policies versus the free-market system prevailing in the West. With China’s access to international trade, the U.S. was hopeful of Beijing’s future successive economic and political reforms, making itself more aligned with Western allies. However, the following decades have shown the trade organisation becoming more favourable towards adapting to Beijing’s trade policies, with certain regulations unapplied to China, i.e protectionist policies to aid state-owned enterprises. Thus, given the rise of China through the WTO and noting the rise of nationalistic attitudes and the right-wing leadership of the U.S. administration, Hoekstra adds that necessary reforms have to happen within the WTO to ensure fair trade for all members. Otherwise, talks of potential withdrawal of the U.S. as a WTO member may resurface soon. 

Furthermore, Hoekstra adds that the notions of mutual respect, discipline and compliance form key concerns of Washington to Beijing. “[The U.S. agenda] is about [forming] like-minded allies,” says Hoekstra. In times like today, transparency in communication is a crucial aspect in taking timely and necessary measures, and currently, it is lacking between the two states. The decision of the U.S. to leave the WHO is allegedly connected to China covering up the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the help of the organisation. Hoekstra justifies leaving the WHO as in the interest of the administration, as its main goal is to create meaningful changes with money invested within the multilateral body, but so far it has not been the case. All in all, with regards to the Sino-U.S. future relationship, Hoekstra says it all depends on China honouring the Western expectations, i.e. ensuring human rights, setting the equivalent environmental policies and standards, respecting rights for Intellectual Property, etc. For instance, if China does not succeed to rise to Western environmental standards, Hoekstra talks of the formation of “green zone” between the Europe and the U.S., so when China exports its goods abroad, it will face a 15% tariff. Commenting on Washington’s current allies, the U.S. Ambassador talks of further strengthening of trade relationships, by reducing protectionist policies, as well as collective investment in security capabilities. Hoekstra reinforces that NATO has been a powerful multilateral body for the past 70 years and calls for additional reforms, related to cybersecurity, “to build a NATO that addresses challenges of today.”

Finally, commenting on domestic measures that could have been done better in terms of mitigating the pandemic, Hoekstra notes that under the federal government, D.C. provides information to all states, and to date, there are at least 50 different plans devising how to confront and defeat the pandemic. Regarding Donald Trump’s leadership during the pandemic, the Ambassador says that it is a priority for whoever is in the Oval Office to provide and ensure health, safety and well-being for all Americans. Hoekstra is also credited for contributing towards the signing of the Defense Production Act with Phillips for supplying healthcare equipment to the US, e.g. ventilators, which has successfully quickened the production. 

If you would you like to watch the original interview, you can do so here, or find it on Room for Discussion’s Youtube page, on Spotify or Soundcloud. If you’d like to read more reviews on Room for Discussion interviews done by Rostra, you can check out our Room for Discussion section.


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