This morning I spent an hour with a U.S. Senator discussing how hearings tomorrow about the safety of Chinese-made toys might be used to address larger issues. I suggested that we need a “Foreign Oppressive Practices Act.” Such an act would curtail the complicity of American manufacturers and investors with a labor regime in China under which the full police powers of the state are deployed to prevent Chinese workers from organizing, and to ensure they remain vulnerable to harassment and exploitation. Just as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, already on the books, forbids American companies from bribery abroad, a Foreign Oppressive Practices Act would require American companies to deal only with factories meeting certain basic labor standards. The law would also forbid American companies from investing in or dealing with or transferring technology to any foreign organizations devoted, for example, to internet censorship or the tracking of dissidents.
I also expressed my support for measures that would impose countervailing tariffs until Beijing makes the yuan fully convertible—like the dollar, the ruble, and even the Kazakh tenge. For their part, the Senator’s staffers had prepared a dramatic map showing how investment in China and China’s trade surplus pass through that country to emerge as aid to states such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iran, and North Korea. I left the meeting encouraged that American politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, were beginning to take seriously the problems created by our see-no-evil trade policy with China and the harm it does to the world economy, to our national security, and the security of our allies.
So I was not prepared for the front page of today’s New York Times. A story featured there, “An Opportunity for Wall Street in China’s Surveillance Boom,” describes “China Security and Surveillance Technology, a fast-growing company that installs and sometimes operates surveillance systems for Chinese police agencies, jails and banks, among other customers,” and which has “just been approved for a listing on the New York Stock Exchange.” The story went on to list some American investors who have put money into this promising growth stock.
Even as I tap out these words on my train home I cannot quite believe what I read. Wall Street, it seems, sees the ever-increasing sophistication of China’s secret police apparatus not as a threat to the basic rights of all people—but as a “growth opportunity.”
I applaud the Times for breaking the story and with such alarming detail. I hope they will follow up with an editorial advocating a “Foreign Oppressive Practices Act.” We need such a law even more desperately than I had realized.