It’s time to call a slave a slave in China

An unwillingness to plainly describe and act on what is happening in China is betrayal, whether done by governments, companies or individuals.

Last week, the Biden administration announced that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had issued a “withhold release order” on silica-based products made by Hoshine Silicon Industry Co. in Xinjiang, China.

The order means that CBP personnel at all U.S. ports of entry will detain shipments that contain silica-based products made by Hoshine or materials and goods derived from or produced using those products.

That’s good. The Biden administration should be commended for taking the action. In a larger sense, however, it elides many of the other problems we face with respect to the Chinese. Slavery, genocide, torture, religious persecution, etc., are not confined to a single province or a single company in China. They are, instead, features of the regime.

We need clarity on that point and on the language we use to make that point. The White House announcement on the withhold release order talked about “forced labor” and the like. That’s a start, but it is insufficient and, more importantly, inaccurate.

This administration also needs to decide what it thinks about China. With one hand it issues an order like this. With the other, it hands China decisive advantages by committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more or less immediately, while the Chinese Communists commit to reducing emissions at some date in the distant future.

The administration wants us to buy electric vehicles, despite the fact that 80% of the minerals used to make the needed batteries are controlled by or processed by China. Team Biden has made no move to change that by either bringing some of the processing to the U.S. or by opening up American mines to harvest these minerals. President Biden’s goal of a net-zero economy by 2050 at this moment means increased reliance on China for our energy.

The administration can’t have it both ways. Either Communist China is a genocidal, torturing, modern slaving nation bent on international dominance, or it is a valuable, reliable, source of energy for the entire United States.

American companies face the same sort of problem. Many view China as a significant market, and are, consequently, willing to overlook the human rights abuses and depredations. That approach is not — as the young people like to say — sustainable.

Just last week, Sean Enwright, the leader of the Northwest Ohio Building Trades Council, wrote to outdoors gear manufacturer Patagonia to point out the company’s hypocrisy in opposing oil pipelines (specifically Line 5 in Michigan), given that almost all of Patagonia’s products are made with chemicals derived from oil and natural gas. He also noted that no less an authority than Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has said that pipelines are the safest and best way to transport oil.

Mr. Enwright also noted: “Given China’s environmental record and commitment to human enslavement, I also find it troubling your company states it: ‘made the choice not to disengage from countries on the basis of their policies.’ Your Chinese footprint is particularly concerning given your company’s mission statement mandating it cause not unnecessary harm.”

Mr. Enwright’s use of the phrase “commitment to human enslavement” is a welcome bit of directness and clarity in what sometimes becomes a jumble of language designed to disguise matters. The Chinese communists are, in fact, committed to human enslavement in all its forms.

Finally, and most troubling, the Chinese communists recently froze the assets of Jimmy Lai, a newspaper publisher in Hong Kong. As a result, the leading opposition publication in Hong Kong, Apple Daily, announced that it would have to shut down. American newspapers gave the news desultory coverage.

Mr. Lai is an especially interesting target. He is among the wealthy elite in Hong Kong, he owns media companies, and he is a Roman Catholic. His arrest and indefinite detention are clear messages to those communities in Hong Kong. Again, the response from the U.S. government and American companies has been mostly silence and indifference.

Companies and governments are not going to be able to remain complicit by their silence indefinitely. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. noted under other circumstances: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Indeed. With respect to the communist regime in China, we are well past that time.

An unwillingness to plainly describe and act on what is happening in China is betrayal, whether done by governments, companies or individuals.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

Sign up for Daily Opinion Newsletter