The lyeand the lies of boarding schools

Todd J. Broadman

A couple of days before Christmas, and after near-unanimous passage in Congress, President Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, or UFLPA. A real mouthful of legislation intended as a whispered yuletide greeting to the oppressed Moslem minorities living in the hinterlands of northwest China. A long overdue action that has drawn the attention (and ire) of many more Chinese than Americans.

Even a surface dive into the act though, turns up a trove of misguided and counterproductive measures. Could almost make one long for a revival of Trump’s 2019 China tariffs that targeted intellectual property theft; at least there was clarity between aim and action. Given the extent of proven human rights abuses inflicted upon the Uyghurs and their continued plight, decisive action by the United Nations ought to have been taken long ago.

On its face, the UFLPA seems to pack a punch: it “bans all imports to the U.S. from the region unless companies can certify that such products are free from forced labor.” And it even goes further to say that if any material along the supply chain was sourced in Xinjiang (the homeland province of the Uyghurs) the product itself is banned.

More of a wafting feather than a threatening punch when it comes to enforcement though, a task placed on the shoulders of the U.S. importer. Let’s take Walmart for example, who by the way, has more than a passing interest in being on good terms with the Chinese. They have more than 430 stores on China’s mainland that bring in more than 11 billion dollars annually. They have more than 4,700 U.S.-based stores. Are we to believe that they will now be responsible for playing the role of supply-chain private investigator for every one of their products?

Let’s keep in mind that the legislation also bans products made from forced laborers transported from Xinjiang to other provinces. One recent report revealed there are at least 80,000 Uyghur forced laborers in factories outside of Xinjiang. The U.S. imports large quantities of solar panels from China; many of the furnaces that produce silicon are located in, you guessed it: Xinjiang province. We can be confident that the dutiful lobbyists that edited this legislation knew full well that its enforcement would be spotty at best.

And are U.S. corporate CEOs supposed to wave the flag and take the moral high ground knowing that the cost of compliance will spiral into the millions of dollars? They are already beginning to answer that question. They are queuing up behind Walmart, Apple, and Intel to submissively kneel and kiss Xi Jinping’s ring. Intel had actually (mis-stepped, and) issued a letter to their suppliers asking them to avoid sourcing from Xinjiang. And after an earful from their stakeholders, stepped off the podium to apologize for “the trouble caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners and the public.”

This topic is worthy of spilling ink for so many reasons. For so long the “free world” has invested in the assumption that “free markets” lead to democracy and that democracy will force the empowerment of human rights. Not so. China is an authoritarian state that practices market capitalism. But, like Russia, sees individual rights, particularly free speech, as a threat to society’s stability.

Stability and “harmony” are reasons enough, in the Communist Party’s eyes, why they have so benevolently built the vocational skills educational centers in Xinjiang. They aim to “rehabilitate” and to “root-out radicalism.” They are paving a path toward cultural genocide for the Uyghurs, if not physical genocide through sterilization.

It is telling that this import ban in the name of human rights garnered almost unanimous agreement inside our deeply fragmented Congress, as did the recent record defense budget — scarcely a dissenting vote. There is a hubris there that even the likes of China can relate to. It courses thick through our political veins. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson summed up the attitude: “We are the only global superpower with the means and the moral compass capable of shaping the world for good.”

Nowadays, moral compasses have never been more reliable; regardless of who reads them, they always seem to point in the same general direction.

After years of globetrotting, Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view. His policy briefs can be found at US Renew News: https://www.usrenewnews.org.

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