VOICES: China’s unfair advantage – enabled by American tech giants

Paul Rosenzwieg is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security.

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Paul Rosenzwieg is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security.

For too long, some American corporations have pursued profits in China by trying to walk a fine line between America’s values rejecting unfair trade competition, and China’s desire to undermine American jobs.

But that delicate dance may soon be coming to an end. In May of last year, Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown introduced their Leveling the Playing Field 2.0 legislation to strengthen U.S. trade remedy laws and support Ohio businesses and their workers who face unfair foreign competition from countries like China. And in February, the House of Representatives passed an American economic competitiveness bill that included Leveling the Playing Field 2.0.

It’s about time.

The worst offenders are names familiar to us all: Amazon, GE, Apple, Microsoft and Intel. The concessions they have made to China’s government violate the spirit of American law, puts American jobs at risk and may even endanger our national security.

That’s a high price to pay for access to Chinese markets, especially considering Beijing demands companies support state censorship, invest in R&D for oppressive technologies, and even give the communist party access to proprietary source code.

Consider the moves Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have made in China.

Earlier this year, Apple hit its highest-ever market share in the Chinese market, pushing its 2021 earnings up roughly 90 percent over the previous year. But to achieve that success, Apple kowtowed to Chinese pressure. User data is now stored on servers in China. And, since 2017, more than 55,000 apps have been blocked by Apple from being featured in the Chinese app store. Meanwhile, Amazon was forced by the Chinese government to take down bad reviews of President Xi’s book (a collection of speeches and writings) under threat of retaliation. And even though Amazon has ended its domestic Chinese e-commerce business, its cloud-based system AWS continues to grow, recently landing the Chinese developer of TikTok as a major client.

Meanwhile Microsoft has invested heavily in China since the 1990s when it first opened a research center there. Today, the company has six Chinese data centers with plans to build four more, and while maintaining deep relationships with the communist party and state enterprises. Microsoft runs a version of its Bing search engine in China that blocks any content flagged by the Communist Party, and its subsidiary Linkedin has been covered by major news outlets for censoring U.S journalists, academics, and political staffers. Perhaps most outrageously, Bing recently transferred Chinese censorship to American shores when it blocked Americans from accessing images of the heroic “Tank Man” on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

These companies demonstrate a depressing willingness to partner with the Chinese Community Party and China’s corporations at all costs, supporting the regime’s authoritarian rule at the expense of their domestic market.

The trade imbalance between China and the U.S. – and China’s high-handed demands for American intellectual property and concessions by American companies – is a direct affront to American workers. Ohio’s senators have committed to making sure Leveling the Playing Field 2.0 is in any final bill the House and Senate negotiate. That’s only step one.

Paul Rosenzwieg is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security.

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