This week the US House voted to increase sanctions against the Chinese government, which for seventy years has dubbed itself the “People’s Republic of China,” a mocking moniker for a regime that exists almost wholly to inflict pain on its people. Bypassing this latest resolution, the US House joins the US Senate (which passed a similar bill earlier this year) and many other nations who have recently condemned Red China for its human rights abuses against various (primarily Muslim) minorities Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz in Xinjiang.
Maybe we should applaud Congress for trying to do something right, something fundamentally nonpartisan. Everyone should be able to oppose forced labor camps. This latest bill would ban all imports from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to pressure the Beijing Politburo. International sanctions can be effective. For example, US export controls are designed to deny our enemies munitions, dual-use materials, and technology that they could use against us or our allies. Sanctions can target specific individuals or entire countries with varying degrees of success. However, limited sanctions (focused on a region and known industry participants) to address Chinese human rights abuses have three major flaws.
Products can be labeled with their origin country, making sanctions simple. So that consumers can make informed purchasing decisions, many countries (including the US) require that imported goods be marked. Like many other consumers worldwide, we Americans look at labels to see where products are made. But the value of this mark is limited. The country, not the area or region, must be stated; we expect all Chinese goods to be marked “Made in China.” It’s impossible to tell where in China it was made.
Without denying that the Chinese government abuses the Uyghurs, they should ask, “Why only the Uyghurs?” They are not the only minority in China which the Politburo has abused. It was unfair to blame today’s American Southerners for the enslavement and abuse of black slaves 160 years ago and to blame the current French government for the mass murders of 230 years ago. It’s unjust to blame today’s Mexican government for 500-year-old Aztec temple massacres. But the Chinese communist government is only 70 years old. Many of its heinous abuses occurred within living memory.
There are reasons we haven’t acted sooner. The Chinese hostages are well fed and live a decent, tax-free life, but they are still hostages. For at least thirty years, American and European companies and others have closed foundries to buy castings from China, plastics from China, and finished goods from China. Why would countries like America, which has partnered with China to produce these products, care about massive human rights violations?