US Companies are Colluding in China’s Domestic Oppression
The Chinese government is now engaged in two dangerous projects: the systematic repression of its people and the escalation of its strategic rivalry with the United States. Some of America’s largest companies have long been accused of complicity in both (whether looking the other way on ethnic cleansing or helping Beijing modernize its surveillance state and military) in exchange for access to China’s lucrative market. Inevitably, reaping profits from China has cost some moral and strategic compromises. But just how bad is it, really?
This debate has long been argued half in the dark. After all, Wall Street knows how much cash these firms make from their Chinese operations. But the public has never known exactly what those operations entailed. Until now.
Earlier this month, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation published “Corporate Complicity Scorecard,” a first-of-its-kind review of eight U.S. firms’ exposure to military modernization, surveillance, and human rights abuses in China. The report examines each company (Amazon, Apple, Dell, Facebook, GE, Google, Intel, and Microsoft) for its engagement with China and, crucially, what Beijing gets out of them. Our analysis, conducted by Horizon Advisory, does not assume doing business in China is inherently wrong, but that corporate support for Beijing’s oppression and military buildup is. And all eight firms are in some way implicated.
Their complicity takes five main forms: tainted supply chains, offshore strategic innovation, partnerships with Chinese government entities, facilitating the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state, and finally, enabling Beijing to use its platforms and resources to spread its propaganda and boost its foreign influence.
The most familiar criticism of U.S. corporate offshoring is that it guts American factories and sends jobs overseas. But what these companies are doing in China is often worse. Dell and GE, for instance, maintain offices inside the Xinjiang region, where the CCP is conducting campaigns of mass internment and forced sterilization against the Uyghur people — atrocities increasingly being recognized as genocide. Dell and Intel, meanwhile, are working with the state-linked Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Automation on cutting-edge biometric recognition and intelligent perception technologies.
China’s “smart city” initiative, a highly advanced public surveillance project, enjoys the financial and technological assistance of Amazon, Dell, GE, and Microsoft. Developing such innovations abroad may sound like the normal operations of international commerce. But that calculus changes when the technology’s effective end-user is an Orwellian surveillance state.
Of the eight companies we examined, five (Amazon, Dell, GE, Intel, and Microsoft) received outright “F” grades for their complicity in some of Beijing’s most indefensible policies, from its atrocities against the Uyghurs to its aggressive military buildup. Apple earned an only slightly less dismal “D,” reflecting its ties to forced labor and the dubious modifications it made, at Beijing’s request, to its data storage and security protocols.
Some good news in our report is that Google and Facebook both earned a “B” grade. Our investigation found no evidence that either operates in Xinjiang, benefits from forced labor in China, or provides direct support to Chinese military or surveillance agencies — though they too are far from off the hook. Even Facebook, though banned in China itself, allows Chinese state entities to use its platform to spread disinformation about the regime’s human rights abuses. What our report shows is that, as these firms make their way into the Chinese market, the Chinese government is making its way into these firms.
As our report’s findings suggest, China’s strategy to co-opt America’s largest corporations is working. A generation ago, the U.S. led the world in welcoming China into the global economy, in the hope that commercial partnerships would transfer American values to China’s elites. Sadly, the opposite has happened. Corporate America did not redeem the Chinese Communist Party; it is being used and increasingly corrupted by it. The evidence is mounting, and the implications are more and more alarming.
We hope that publishing these findings will offer Silicon Valley and Wall Street the moment of clarity they need to recalibrate the nature of their engagement in China. But ultimately, the question of corporate complicity in Beijing’s oppression is one that America must answer.
Today, some of America’s largest companies are openly or clandestinely helping our most dangerous rival build out its totalitarian surveillance state and develop high-end military technology that may soon be pointed at American troops. If U.S. companies cannot grasp the need to change how they do business in China, perhaps it’s time for Congress to make them.