President Should Press China on Human Rights, Corporate Espionage

September 23, 2015

His Holiness, Pope Francis, is scheduled to speak to a joint meeting of Congress this week.  Many expect him to speak on human rights and caring for the poor. The Pope has been a powerful advocate for those stuck in poverty around the world. However, Pope Francis will not be the only foreign Head of State in Washington this week.  Chinese President Xi Jinping will be spending several days in the United States and meeting with the President on Friday.  The media spotlight may be on the Papal address to Congress, but our relationship with China and the continued tensions over a wide range of issues are critical to American workers.

While China has grown in economic and military power, it has not adequately addressed the concerns raised by human rights advocates, American companies affected by cyber attacks, and our Asian allies that are uncomfortable with Chinese military expansion. The state visit should be an opportunity for the President to press the Chinese government on a host of issues that are affecting American businesses and causing concern for our allies in Asia.

Corporate espionage has become rampant. According to a July CNN report, the FBI has seen a 53 percent increase in corporate espionage lately, with the “vast majority” of it coming from China. As recently as May of this year, the U.S. Department of Justice charged six Chinese nationals with stealing trade secrets from two American companies. The result of economic espionage costs American companies millions in lost profits and ultimately hurts American workers.  Chinese companies gain an unfair and immoral advantage by not investing its own capital in research and development and simply stealing the hard work of American investors and innovators.

America’s steel industry is also feeling the pinch of China’s government propping up its own steel manufacturers.  Since 2000, Chinese steel production has increased exponentially, run by state-owned enterprises and supported by government subsidies.  These subsidies make it possible for China to ignore free-market forces and sell their steel at a significantly lower price, often as much as 25 percent less than American steel.  In Ohio, steel companies are producing the finest steel products in the world. But it is difficult for America to compete with Chinese companies that use its government to subsidize their production.  That’s why I joined a group of my colleagues imploring the President to address this issue with the President of China during his visit.

China’s currency manipulation is another issue President Obama needs to discuss with Jinping.  Manipulated currency levels, especially by a nation and economy as large as China’s, have global implications. It makes China’s exports cheaper and doesn’t allow the Yuan to move with market forces, thus hurting American industries. 

The expansion of military assets and aggressive posturing in the Pacific Ocean by China’s military is another cause for concern.  Chinese claims on the Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by Japan, and the construction of artificial islands for military purposes in the South China Sea, are setting off alarms in Japan. In response, the Japanese Prime Minister has proposed increasing their military budget to deter any further Chinese expansion.

Finally, the Chinese record on human rights must be addressed. Political dissent and free speech is paramount for an open society. China continues to severely restrict Internet access and jail political dissidents and journalists for speaking out against corruption and the lack of freedoms in China.  Political activists and lawyers have been jailed for disagreeing with the Chinese government. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, China is world leader in the number of journalists in prison, with 44 in 2014.  Christian activists contend that religious leaders have had their churches seized or destroyed, with over 1,200 Christian crosses removed by state police.

China has become a key voice in the global economy and a regional power in Asia.  But its economic progress is not a substitute for political and individual freedoms. Their protectionist trade practices are hurting American workers and the aggressive actions by the Chinese military is alarming our allies in Asia.  This is an opportunity for the President to stand up for American jobs, for our friends abroad, and the victims of China’s human rights abuses. I hope he uses this opportunity wisely.