A few days after Nike CEO John Donahoe called his shoe company a “brand of China and for China” in June 2021, Beijing’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijan slammed a Biden administration fact sheet highlighting forced labor in Xinjiang as “lies and disinformation” based on the “systematic implementation of the conspiracy to contain China.” Donahoe is one of many American executives who turn a blind eye to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) human rights abuses. Not only is it in their interest for U.S.-China relations to remain warm, but also—and more unsettling—Donahoe’s company relies on these abuses to generate enormous profits.
In The Decisive Decade, China observer Jonathan Ward argues that U.S. national security can be revitalized if economic, political, military, and ideological might are synchronized with one another. This will be impossible if the hypocrisy at the heart of America’s private sector is left unaddressed. When American multinational companies subsidize China’s rise, this undermines the U.S. Treasury Department’s efforts to support the dollar’s use globally and the State Department’s response to Chinese diplomacy in the Global South. Washington, Silicon Valley, and Wall Street must work together to enable the United States to prevail in the current era of great power competition.
The CCP does not have to worry about a disconnect between its ambitions and the decisions made by its industries as a result of its political system. The United States, on the other hand, must balance democratic principles with any government pressure on private enterprise to ensure that its global influence is not eroded from the inside. This presents a challenge: American companies today are much more likely to put profits ahead of any adherence to national ideals. Ward opens his book by exposing the most egregious examples, such as Caterpillar’s public enthusiasm in supporting China’s “ambitious, forward-looking” Belt and Road Initiative that, it says (parroting the CCP), will “improve living standard throughout multiple nations.”
Amajority of Americans remain ignorant of the full extent of the CCP’s domestic oppression and the global means through which it is enforced. At a basic level, American and other media organizations should dedicate more coverage to China’s mistreatment of its Uyghur population and forced labor in Xinjiang Province. This is especially crucial in light of recent investigations into TikTok that reflect the extent to which Beijing can influence the social media habits of millions of Americans. Non-profit news sources and media organizations can provide more outlets to the Uyghur journalists reporting from abroad, while also covering the CCP’s detention of these refugees’ family members, as a method to blackmail political dissidents.
Providing more realistic coverage of China’s domestic policies alongside the hypocrisy of well-known business executives will help American consumers make informed choices about the products they buy. While American news outlets have not completely neglected China’s human rights abuses, they have failed to emphasize how the CCP’s actions conflict with private companies’ promises to support human rights. For example, at a 2018 keynote address in Brussels, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “Every day, we work to infuse the devices we make with the humanity that makes us.”
The irony, however, is that Apple has sacrificed legal ownership of its devices to CCP-controlled companies in China to maximize its profits. It is rare for the media to shed light on this fundamental contradiction. Too often, investigations into multinational companies’ corporate promises and the CCP’s inhumane domestic policies are kept separate from one another. Unable to see the link between the two issues, Americans remain apathetic about U.S.-China corporate deals–an apathy that encourages the private sector to keep undermining Washington’s foreign policy goals.
Read the rest at American Purpose.
Axel de Vernous is a research assistant at Yorktown Institute.