Despite President Joe Biden’s foreign policy weaknesses and blind spots with regard to Russia, Iran, and elsewhere, his administration admirably continues acting with at least some cleareyed strength against some of communist China’s assaults on human decency.
Three times in the past week, the Biden team has shown some welcome gumption against China. The first two steps were sea-based. Challenging China’s illegal and belligerent claims to sovereignty over the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, the Navy has sent the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier group and the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur in separate transits of those international waters. The third step came Thursday when the administration announced various penalties against companies believed to be using forced labour in China’s Xinjiang region to produce raw materials for solar panels.
The biggest target is the Hoshine Silicon Industry Company and its subsidiaries, imports from which will be banned indefinitely. Separately, the Commerce Department is adding Hoshine and four other Chinese “entities” to a list upon which strict burdens, usually amounting to bans, would be placed with regard to commercial transactions involving them. Also, the Labor Department would add Chinese polysilicon to its list of products made with either child labour or forced labour.
The White House fact sheet on the moves specifically accuses the entities involved of “participating in the practice of, accepting, or utilizing forced labour in Xinjiang and contributing to human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in Xinjiang.” The penalties come atop similar ones previously placed on 48 other Chinese entities and against numerous other Chinese products, “including cotton, garments, footwear, electronics, gloves, hair products, textiles, thread/yarn, and tomato products.”
Granted, these sanctions in and of themselves won’t do much to harm the targeted industries, much less make China feel an economic pinch. A Wall Street Journal report even describes the new trade controls as “largely symbolic.” Still, as part of the battle, the administration’s actions could begin to add up to a substantive erosion of China’s economic hegemony.
Besides, symbolism is and always has been important in foreign policy. Reagan demonstrated as much again and again during his successful efforts to defeat the evil Soviet empire in the Cold War, with plenteous documentary and testimonial evidence showing just how important the elevation of ideals of freedom and human rights can be in catalyzing epochal change.
By now, there can be no denying that, as the White House noted, China’s “systematic abuses go beyond forced labour to include sexual violence and large-scale forced detentions, and the PRC continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.” Again, this is borne out both by documentary evidence and by 108 new eyewitness accounts of obscene abuses, including vicious forms of torture regularly carried out against ethnic and religious minorities. These practices demonstrate that even if China has fully entered the modern world economically, its communist government is evil.
Biden is correct to take repeated, measured steps to pressure China to stop its brutishness and, separately, its belligerence. His actions toward those ends so far have been a pleasant surprise.