Getting tough with China is an opportunity to bring back bipartisanship in U.S. politics
If bipartisanship can ever return to the halls of government as a force to solve the major challenges that face our nation and the world around us, it is unlikely to happen overnight and it will not emanate solely from the halls of government.
Instead, it will take an unusual combination of leadership from the top speaking to the importance of Americans coming together to fight a common foe and citizens joining together in their communities to prevent invasive attacks on our democratic way of life and on our free enterprise economy.
For the last four years, the most prominent attack on our democratic way of life came from Russian interference with the 2016 election. With so much focus on Russia, it’s sometimes difficult to see the equally troubling rise of China and the damage it inflicts on America and its own citizens.
China’s extortion and theft of American tech companies’ intellectual property is well-known, thanks to President Trump taking on China, but less understood is the long-term consequences of China’s incursion into American life and its negative impact on manufacturing jobs in America.
President Bill Clinton gave away the store to China when he facilitated — with help from both sides of the aisle — China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, which China used to its advantage while ignoring the rules that would keep it a fair-trading partner.
The long-term impact on manufacturing jobs was documented in a report last year by the think-tank Economic Policy Institute, which opposed China’s entry into the WTO. The growth of the U.S. trade deficit since China entered the WTO resulted in the loss of 3.7 million jobs, three-fourths of which were manufacturing jobs. Those who found work in other sectors of the economy also found they paid lower wages.
Is it any wonder that Donald Trump took votes away from Hillary Clinton as he hammered the Clintons for sending so many jobs abroad with trade agreements that hurt American workers?
American consumerism has partnered with China as it has fallen into the grip of its authoritarian tentacles. Reaching into all corners of American life as we grab products off the shelves without giving thought to where they come from, how that might have robbed Americans of jobs back home and what harm was inflicted on those in China manufacturing such goods, our consumer habits have run amok.
Julie Keith, an Oregon mother working with her children to decorate for Halloween a few years ago learned just how American consumers enable the Chinese Communist Party to manufacture cheap consumer goods at the expense of Chinese dissidents thrown into forced labor camps where they are tortured and forced to work 15-hour days to feed our consumer habits.
In a recent interview at Reader’s Corner on Boise State Public Radio, Amelia Pang, author of “Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods,” explains how Keith found a note in a Halloween decoration from a Chinese dissident in a forced labor camp.
Pleading for help in uncovering China’s 1,400 brutal operating camps and prisons that produce cheap goods for American consumers, Sun Yi found a compassionate voice in Julie Heath who contacted human rights organizations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the primary agencies responsible for preventing forced-labor products from entering the U.S. economy.
Pang’s book offers yet another reason consumers should think twice before buying goods produced with the blessing of the Chinese Communist Party and which brutalize Chinese workers and destroy the jobs of American workers. She shows how Democratic and Republican presidents since Jimmy Carter have been complicit in America turning a blind eye to China sending goods produced by China’s gulags to American markets.
American corporations are also guilty of overlooking human rights abuses in China and settling for products that rob U.S. workers of their livelihoods back home. In some cases, American companies support China’s censorship rules and pay allegiance to the Chinese Communist party line on sovereignty issues like Taiwan, Tibet and Hong Kong. The New York Times report on Apple CEO, Tim Cook, courting China by helping build its censorship apps is just one example of American corporations caving to China’s anti-democratic demands.
In 2018, Marriott fired an employee at the behest of China who retweeted a tweet from Friends of Tibet, a pro-Tibetan independence organization, congratulating Marriott for recognizing Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, summed it up best when he called it the “…the long arm of China. They can get an ‘American’ company to fire an American worker in America.”
In response to China’s arbitrary detention, torture and harassment of ethnic Turkic Muslims, Republican Sen. Rubio and Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, sponsored the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019. Passing with almost unanimous bipartisan support, the Act sanctions Chinese officials responsible for the re-education camps that imprison people for their religious beliefs.
The jury is still out on whether this act of bipartisanship will result in federal agencies penalizing China for its human rights abuses, but it serves as a perfect example of how an issue can unite people with differing points of view. It is past time for America to re-assess its relationship with China from the ground up.
We as consumers can follow the bipartisan lead of Rubio and Menendez and do our part by raising questions about the products we buy. Apparently, many consumers are already doing so, according to a poll last year that 40% of Americans won’t buy Made-In-China products.
We may not find messages in what we buy as Julie Keith did, but we can certainly check for the “Made in China” label and put it back on the shelf.
Bob Kustra served as president of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He is host of Reader’s Corner on Boise State Public Radio and he writes a biweekly column for the Idaho Statesman. He served two terms as Illinois lieutenant governor and 10 years as a state legislator.