Our Nation’s Political and Business Leaders Don’t Have the Luxury of Ignoring China’s Suppression of Democracy Any More


A few days ago former North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp wrote a column critical of the Trump administration’s approach to China.

It wasn’t a particularly insightful piece, meandering as it did through the typical Democratic talking points on that issue. What was notable, actually, is what wasn’t in the column.

Not a single mention, anywhere, of the pro-democracy protests taking place in Hong Kong and the Chinese regime’s brutal efforts to suppress them. Heitkamp’s position is that we should just go back to business as usual with China again.

This is an all-too-typical oversight in American discourse today. Just a couple of weeks ago I was in Bismarck for a policy summit put on by the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce. One of the panel discussions was about China and trade and, again, there was no discussion at all of the millions in Hong Kong fighting for democracy.

It was just a lot of fretting about soybeans and steel prices.

When the general manager of the Houston Rockets made a social media post supportive of the Hong Kong protesters it created something of an international incident. The team executive ended up deleting the post, and the NBA itself disavowed his views.

The executive has even apologized for offending people by, uh, expressing support for democracy.

Because I guess that’s something you have to be regret in America today?

That wasn’t enough to placate the communist-controlled Chinese government which has instituted reprisals against the league.

China represents a very large, and very lucrative market for just about every American industry from agriculture to entertainment. But how much of the American ethos are we willing to sacrifice in order to access that market?

For decades now, starting around the time of President Clinton’s first term in office, American political leaders of both parties were generally united in their views on trade with China. Not only would opening that door be good for the American economy, but we thought through trade we could knock the rough edges off of the Chinese government’s authoritarian tendencies. We thought trade could make China a better global neighbor and make us more prosperous to boot.

It was a fine idea, and one I bought into as well, but I think it’s time to admit the experiment has failed. China has become a monster, and its tentacles reach deep into the American soul.

American politicians look the other way from China’s rampant human rights abuses. American businesses, from professional sports leagues to movie studios to tech giants, bend to Chinese demands for censorship.

Even the Trump administration, which has taken the fight to China on trade, has missed an opportunity to defend its policies on a loftier front. One that fulfills America’s historical duty to lead the free world.

It has to end. China’s authoritarianism has to be a part of any discussion we have in our dealings with them going forward. The time for ignoring it, the time for thinking it would go away as the nation’s economy matured, is over.