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The conduct of the Chinese government does not receive nearly a suitable level of coverage and criticism from the international media. The regime is continuing its long history of totalitarian behavior and is keeping its citizens in perpetual submission. The methods used for quashing dissent have varied over time. They include infamous uses of military force against civilians, as done in the Tiananmen Square Massacre, as well as the Chinese Communist Party’s use of technology ranging from facial recognition to state-controlled internet services employed to dissuade and detect any possibly subversive activity. This information is compiled and synthesized into a profile for most citizens, who then receive a “social credit score” which can have major effects on their place in Chinese society and what opportunities they have access to.

Unfortunately, technology from the United States and U.S.-based companies has played a large role in facilitating the oppressive conduct of the CCP. A number of U.S. firms have seen their tech deployed in the Xinjiang Province, where authorities have been raging a brutal crackdown on Uyghur Muslims in the region for years. 

There is a history of minimal oversight for the products that find their way into CCP hands, as well as issues with enforcement of existing policies designed to curb the flow of sensitive data and tech to China. The 2018 Export Control Reform Act, created for this purpose, has been criticized as not being sufficiently specific as to allow U.S. authorities to review questionable transactions that may represent threats to both U.S. national security and the remaining liberties of Chinese citizens.

To close these gaps and provide a greater level of assurance that no cutting-edge or dangerous tech is exported to the Chinese government, a number of House Republicans have reached out to the Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in an effort to further curb tech exports to Chinese companies. For its part, the Commerce Department has expressed its commitment to placing export controls when necessary, recently instituting measures for protection against human rights abuses and “destabilizing military modernization efforts.” However, representatives took issue with the fact that from November 2020 to April 2021, the Commerce Department issued about $100 billion worth of export licenses for possibly sensitive technological goods to Chinese companies. Clearly, sizable transactions are still slipping through the cracks within U.S. economic policies targeting the CCP.

Though Raimondo has voiced support for these restrictions, she has also expressed a desire to facilitate U.S.-China trade. She claimed that China is too big of an economy to decouple from. This stance has brought her great scorn from officials who rightly recognize that such extensive economic ties with China may prove more harmful than lucrative to the U.S. in the long term. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, called Raimondo a member of the “China Lobby,” and criticized her for “(throwing) away all the leverage” in future negotiations by expressly eliminating the possibility of scaling back the American economic relationship with China.

Raimondo’s contradictions on this critical matter should concern Americans and anyone who opposes the CCP’s conduct. She calls for increased economic cooperation with the Chinese government and heads an organization that fails to properly enforce export restrictions. Simultaneously, she claims to protect global citizens against human rights abuses and U.S. national security threats. The Commerce Secretary’s behavior shows signs of either ignorance or attempted deception, neither of which are acceptable from an official of her standing. It is important that Secretary Raimondo does not ignore a discouraging pattern in American foreign policy towards the Chinese government.

Since the Nixon administration, U.S. leadership has had a habit of tabling legitimate concerns about China’s behavior, domestically and on the world stage, to allow America to derive benefit from the country’s promising growth as its position in the global economy improves. After President Nixon made his historic and greatly capitulatory visit to China in 1972, President Carter followed by establishing formal diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic in 1979, an act which required the severance of official U.S. ties with Taiwan in accordance with the One China Policy.

When asked to reflect on his decision-making, President Carter mentioned that the great potential of “commercial” ties with China played a significant role in his desire to establish formal relations with the People’s Republic. After breaking a decades-long precedent in U.S. leadership of recognizing the government of the Republic of China in Taiwan, Carter even dared to say that “it was recognized that … the people of Taiwan were being treated fairly” during the process which led to their public relations with the U.S., and the international community at-large being extinguished.

Past U.S. leadership has mostly failed to stand strong in their moral convictions in the face of enticing economic opportunity brought by U.S.-China relations. The Commerce Department and the Biden Administration should heed the lessons of the last few decades of China’s policies — they should not lose sight of long-term American interests and grave human rights concerns as China continues to build its foreign and economic policy.

Noah Ente is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at noahente@umich.edu.