China has one of the most repressive governments in the world. It has oppressed 2 million ethnic Uighurs, throwing a million of them into forced labor camps while denying them the right to practice their religion.
Denying religious freedom is a feature in China, not a bug. Christians, too, are severely restricted in practicing their faith. There’s also the deadening hand of censorship on all speech, with stiff penalties for criticizing the Chinese Communist government.
To a degree unseen in the west, the Chinese people are regimented and controlled. But that’s just fine with America’s large corporations. In fact, a massive lobbying effort is underway by powerful trade and interest groups to forestall any kind of government action that would be aimed at Chinese bad behavior.
When asked the reason, big business says, “It’s the customers, dummy.”
The groups say companies abhor the intimidation, forced labor conditions and general atmosphere of repression in China, particularly in Hong Kong and the northwestern region of Xinjiang. But they are also concerned that a trade crackdown could strangle investments U.S. firms have made in the world’s most populous nation.
“There’s a huge consumer market in China. Most of the big U.S. companies are selling there. They’re not just using it as an export platform. They’re integrated into the economy in other ways,” said Rufus Yerxa, a former senior U.S. trade representative and WTO official who is now president of the National Foreign Trade Council.
In fact, large western corporations are hardly in a position to criticize Chinese policies because they have become a big part of the repression and intimidation machine let loose by the Chinese government on their own people.
American-based social media companies allow the Chinese government to dictate what content the Chinese people can see. Hollywood must tailor their films and TV shows, taking into account Chinese sensibilities.
And if they want to continue to do business in China, they must kowtow to the party line — as the NBA did last year when a general manager tweeted a plea for freedom for Hong Kong. The Chinese Communists threatened to pull out of a billion-dollar sponsorship deal unless the NBA played ball on Hong Kong. In the end, the general manager genuflected to the Chinese Communists by rescinding the tweet.
The Chinese still pulled out of a sponsorship deal with the GM’s team, the Houston Rockets.
Groups representing hundreds of the biggest U.S. companies, from Amazon to JPMorgan Chase and Nike, have so far gotten lawmakers to kill legislation that would mandate government reviews for American investments in China, weaken anti-Beijing rhetoric in an evolving House legislative package, and insert corporate-friendly provisions to an anti-forced labor bill that would reshape how the federal government implements trade restrictions.
But none of those bills have been finalized, and big business groups are worried that they won’t be able to rely on their traditional allies once the fall legislative session begins.
Only total submission to the Chinese government will be accepted. With Republicans pushing Biden and the Democrats to get tougher on China, the business lobbyists have turned to radical progressives to save them.
It’s an odd pairing to be sure. Radicals want to tax big business into oblivion, while big business wants to destroy the planet, according to the socialists.
But their interests merge when it comes to preventing the start of another cold war.
In recent months, the U.S.-China Business Council, which represents more than 250 American firms that do business in China, has reached out to aides for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and anti-war groups like Justice is Global, one of scores of groups that endorsed letters urging Congress to pump the brakes on anti-China provisions and prioritize climate change cooperation with Beijing.
The business groups say that they can still hold Beijing accountable for human rights abuses while making lots and lots of money. It’s a dubious calculus given what we know about the Chinese Communists.
Congress is likely to pass restrictive trade laws because China already has restrictive laws on the books. And China has become a very sensitive political issue for Biden, whose son Hunter has gotten very cozy with the Chinese Communists.
So playing nice with the Chinese Communists must await a more pliable president and a Congress that doesn’t mind filling the pockets of slavers and torturers.