Trade with China has been a factor in American capitalism since the birth of the republic, but only in the 21st century has it become a truly massive driver of American corporate wealth. But a funny thing happened on the way to the bank: The American influencer became the influenced. Trade is a two-way street that is meant to be mutually beneficial, but American trade with China has turned into a trade of our values for their money.
Corporations that we used to think of as American wear that allegiance very lightly these days, if at all. Their executives are happy to keep their headquarters here and live here. They love that our Constitution gives them and their owners secure property rights and that our taxation regime is not as onerous as some places and is fairly predictable. They love that our First Amendment gives them the right to advocate whatever cause is popular this week among their class of bien pensant elites.
But these leaders of woke capitalism aren’t so keen on extending those same rights to ordinary people. Their loyalty is to the dollar, not the flag. They outsource production to China, which is bad enough, but in doing so they sell out more than the individual workers whose factories they shutter. Importing Chinese goods and Chinese profits means importing the values of the Chinese Communist Party. On free speech, consumer protections, workers’ rights, the environment, and more, our open trade with China has rendered our laws null and replaced them with the dictates of a hostile, totalitarian state.
Whatever You Say, Say Nothing
The most recent example of American business leaders kowtowing to Chinese Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping is seen in the way the National Basketball Association cracked down on dissent from one of its employees. The situation is benign enough by American standards: Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a message of support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong — just another American praising democracy and peaceful protest.
But support for democracy is far from harmless in the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party. Word got back to the NBA that dissent from the party line was unacceptable for any corporation that wants to do business with them. Morey’s tweet disappeared, and the league issued a groveling apology.
It wasn’t quick enough, though. The Rockets have been a popular team in the People’s Republic since they drafted Chinese superstar Yao Ming in 2002, but those relationships soon crumbled under the weight of an uncensored thought. Some sources reported that the Rockets even considered firing Morey for his thoughtcrime. In China, the Rockets are already being cast down the memory hole.
Reaction is spreading through the league. At a Philadelphia 76ers exhibition game on Tuesday, one fan wore a “Free Hong Kong” shirt and heckled the visiting Guangzhou Loong Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Abusing the opposing team loudly and cleverly is any Philadelphian’s birthright, and unless the hecklers are profane or bothering other fans, they are typically permitted to express themselves.
But criticizing a communist regime goes too far for China’s capitalist vassals, it seems. The Sixers fan was thrown out of the arena for daring to praise democracy. The same thing happened the following night in Washington when the Loong Lions played the Wizards.
Big Tech Loves China
Red China’s speech controls reach into Silicon Valley as well. The list of flag emojis has long included both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China, which is usually known as Taiwan. Communist China considers Taiwan a rogue province, but that political dispute has never been the concern of people tapping out pictures in their messaging apps — until earlier this week.
As reported in The Verge, “When Apple released iOS 13.1.1 in late September, it appears to have dropped the Taiwan flag from the emoji keyboard for users that have their iOS region set to Hong Kong or Macau.” It’s one thing for communist China to censor its own people — we would have a hard time stopping them. It’s quite another for an American company to participate in that censorship. Yet Apple acquiesced quietly and quickly to the totalitarians’ demands.
Compare this to the reaction in 2016 when Apple replaced the pistol emoji with a green water pistol and pressured Unicode (the organization in charge of emojis) into canceling its planned release of a rifle emoji. The other tech companies followed Apple’s lead, each falling over the others to show how much they hated guns.
That same update to the collection of ideograms featured a rainbow flag, which again let the tech giants brag about their affection for LGBT groups. This forces one to wonder how long that would last if the PRC decided to crack down on alternative lifestyles.
Beyond Free Speech
Twisting American corporations against civil liberties is a serious problem Americans should stand against. But it goes beyond even that. We are also importing the Chinese Communist Party’s values on other issues.
Consider the fervor with which upper-class liberals agitate for environmental regulations. They demand not simple conservation, but the complete reordering of the nation’s economy in a Green New Deal. Banning coal, oil, and natural gas. Ending the internal combustion engine. Putting so many regulations on factories and power plants that those still able to operate will build products far too expensive for the average citizen.
Yet these same people are some of the biggest cheerleaders for free trade with the Third World. What do they think they are buying with those cheap imports? Everything that goes into making American products (or the products of other industrialized liberal nations) has to comply with a pile of environmental laws and regulations, some of which are good and necessary. But nothing coming out of China follows those laws. We are lucky if they follow their own. Green free-traders’ environmentalism is just another feel-good facade.
Workplace safety laws in Red China are a joke, which the government enforces only when it is displeased with the factory owner. Employees in general are without rights in the so-called workers’ paradise. Unionization is mandated, but workers’ only option is to join the 300 million-member All-China Federation of Trade Unions.
The ACFTU is the only legal union and is run by the same party apparatchiks that control the factories and the army. Workers are not allowed an independent voice. Remember that when some politician who promotes trade with China pretends to care about any concerns normal people face in their workplaces.
Crisis and Opportunity
All of this is baked into every product imported from Red China. Free trade with communist nations will defeat every law we have. In a free market with an unfree nation, we have created a competition of systems, and bad systems will drive out good.
The NBA scandal has brought it to people’s attention, but it has been the lie behind trade with China since that nation was admitted to the World Trade Organization in 2001. We trusted China to play by the rules, and our mistake was apparent very quickly. Those who would adhere to it in the face of that evidence are willfully blind.
But is it enough to call the rich liberals in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street hypocrites? Clearly, the case has been proven again and again, but what good is it if conservatives and liberals just point fingers at each other?
Instead, conservatives should see this as an opportunity to step into the void left behind when Democrats ceased being the party of the average American worker. Republicans can help individual workers, increase American civil liberties, and preserve nature merely by standing up to China — something they and Democrats have spectacularly failed to do for decades now.
A Republican Party that stands up to China can actually stand up for human rights. That’s a favorable contrast to a party that says the right things then sells out to the highest bidder. Standing up to China and taking control of our own economy, society, and inalienable rights is the right thing to do. It’s also the way to win with the voters. President Trump and congressional Republicans should seize this opportunity for the country’s sake and for their own.