The Chinese government welcomed President Joe Biden to office by sanctioning 28 former Trump administration officials (and their families) on Inauguration Day. Since then, the Chinese Communist Party has continued to test the new administration to assess whether it is prepared to defend American interests.
Many security experts predicted the next sizing up from the party leadership in Beijing would be in the Taiwan Straits. Instead, it is turning its ire toward the boardrooms of some of the most prominent retail brands produced by the United States and its close allies.
Leading companies around the world are reviewing their supply chains to make sure they aren’t indirectly or directly involved in the CCP’s systematic campaign of atrocities against the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang (a territory the CCP has claimed to be a part of China only since the murderous reign of Mao Zedong). The U.S. under Donald Trump recognized the seriousness of these crimes by imposing sanctions in July and, in January, declaring that the abuses constituted genocide.
Corporations are particularly concerned that Beijing is using Uyghurs for forced labor, and that such labor could be involved in their supply chains, given how much global manufacturing takes place in China. Popular Western brands like H&M and Adidas have taken steps to make sure the supply chains for their products don’t include material sourced to Beijing’s forced labor complex. H&M, for example, has said it would stop buying cotton from Xinjiang.
So the Beijing regime’s response has been to organize what can best be described as a counter-boycott, attempting to deny these companies access to the Chinese marketplace. The choice Beijing is forcing on American and Western companies and their shareholders is clear: Abandon your future market share or abandon your humanity. For leading American companies (e.g., Nike and Apple), with more than $100 billion dollars a year in revenues in China, the threat is real.
When the full power of the Communist Chinese government is levied against American companies, how will the Biden administration react to this test?
With so many senior Biden administration officials having served in the Obama administration, which failed to respond to the CCP’s militarization of the South China Sea and large-scale cyberattacks against the United States and the American people, it’s not unreasonable for the Chinese government to see potential weakness in its new Washington counterparts.
So far, the new administration has taken positive steps. Both then-candidate Biden and his secretary of state have reaffirmed Trump’s genocide judgment as a matter of law and U.S. policy. Indeed, the Biden administration has added new Treasury Department sanctions against CCP officials for their role in the genocide against the Uyghurs.
Likewise, the recently released annual State Department Human Rights report was unambiguous that the Communist Chinese government is committing “genocide against [the] Uyghurs” and “crimes against humanity.” The administration deserves to be commended not just for embracing the policies of the previous president but being willing to build on them.
However, Biden needs to do more, particularly to work with Congress on measures seeking to rein in Beijing. One worth pursuing is the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act authored by Rep. James McGovern (D-Massachusetts) and Sen. Marco Rubio ( R-Florida).
This legislation would, among other things, prohibit imports of goods likely to have been produced with forced labor related to Beijing’s campaign against the Uyghurs. Among other benefits of this legislation, American companies would be taken out of the CCP’s crosshairs: They wouldn’t be acting by choice (or out of conscience); they would be responding to a U.S. law.
The Biden administration hasn’t registered a position on this legislation, but a public endorsement would be a powerful signal to Beijing, and it would likely be joined by allies who are considering similar measures.
Likewise, the president is planning to send Congress a proposal for $2 trillion in new spending for infrastructure, green energy, and related matters. But will this package also be a boon to the CCP and its Uyghur forced labor campaign? And will it, at the same time, perpetuate and strengthen China’s stranglehold on key technologies and supply chains?
According to leading China experts Nate Picarsic and Emily de la Bruyere of the advisory firm Horizon Advisory and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, some of China’s (and therefore the world’s) leading solar manufacturers rely on components that have been linked to China’s Uyghur forced labor.
One can scarcely imagine a worse signal to Beijing than to condemn its treatment of millions of Uyghurs as genocide and then knowingly subsidize its forced labor system with billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. Swift enactment of the aforementioned Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act is one way to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
Lastly, there is the matter of the Beijing 2022 Olympics. Hundreds of Americans have been training for these games for years, if not their entire lifetimes. They make for a sympathetic cohort to preserve the status quo and pretend the games aren’t a global endorsement of the Beijing regime on one of the world’s largest stages.
But there’s no way to avoid the fact that athletes participating in the games, and corporations spending billions to endorse them, is a victory for the Chinese Communist Party. That’s why many activists have already taken to calling these games the “genocide Olympics.”
The administration, having acknowledged that Beijing is undertaking the extermination of a people in real time, cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities by participating in the games. While no one wants to see America’s Olympians denied an opportunity to compete, against the backdrop of a contemporaneous genocide, is there really a debate about the right course of action?
The Chinese Communist Party clearly believes time is on its side, and that the West is too divided to defend itself when Beijing challenges its interests. Biden’s administration has taken good initial steps to push back at Beijing. Now is not the time to back off.
Tim Morrison was a deputy assistant to the president for national security for President Trump and is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.