"We must speak up for human rights. It's who we are," President Biden said at a town hall earlier this week. This is an American tradition worth upholding. Unfortunately, Biden fumbled through an answer in which he likened China's human rights abuses to "cultural norms" at the same event. Regardless of this confusion, there is much that the U.S. government can do to promote freedom and combat China's nefarious efforts across the globe.
On Washington Watch yesterday, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) pointed out that China's treatment of its religious and ethnic minorities is an attack on human dignity. "There are no [different cultural] norms when it comes to the fundamental equality of all mankind, whether you're American or Chinese or anyone else, you're born equal in the eyes of God," he said. "And there's no place for the kind of oppression you see in China."
The Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) oppression is not limited to the Xinjiang region. "Christians throughout eastern China that have tried to practice their religion in private churches are having their homes invaded. Democracy activists in Hong Kong have been persecuted terribly," Sen. Cotton said.
To understand the depravity of the CCP's repression in China, one need look no further than a recent BBC report. It details horrific accounts of rape and sexual assault against Uyghur Muslims that occur in "re-education" camps in Xinjiang, China. For Sen. Cotton, this is a call to action: "It's terrible. And the United States needs to condemn it. And we need to lead the world in taking action against the Chinese Communist Party... it's not just a moral imperative. It's a strategic imperative."
As China's domestic policies become more abusive, its meddling around the world is becoming more dangerous. When the Chinese government can bully the NBA and shape Disney's movie plots, it has too much power. And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.
America's economy has many points of vulnerability -- and China is well-positioned to exploit them. "Medical equipment, as we saw last spring at the beginning of this pandemic, or [China's] access to refined rare earth elements that are so essential for our economy today, or other points of leverage that they have over the United States are also troubling," Sen. Cotton said.
Our current dependence on China gives the CCP many points of leverage. To protect American independence, we must take steps to disentangle from China's economy. Sen. Cotton recently released a report titled "Beat China: Targeted Decoupling and the Economic Long War," with ideas on how to do just that.
As Cotton observed during the report's release, the Chinese government "imprisons innocent people in concentration camps. It uses slave labor to fuel its factories. And it denies basic freedoms to all its 1.4 billion people." Quite so, and Sen. Cotton's plan should be given serious consideration by U.S. officials and politicians.
To protect Americans and freedom-lovers everywhere, the U.S. must continue to stand up for freedom and basic human rights. President Ronald Reagan understood the power of human rights advocacy to make a difference in international affairs. He persistently emphasized human rights issues in the Soviet Union, which in turn empowered dissidents and irritated Soviet oppressors. Sen. Cotton argues, "The same is true of the Chinese Communist Party. If we shine a light on these barbaric, horrific practices and lead the world in condemning it, then it will put us in a stronger position."
What American leaders say on the world stage matters, and actions matter even more. The evils of oppression will not go away because we ignore them. We cannot look the other way.