“Tech companies need to remember that they are American tech companies. And they should be sensitive to the values that we stand for,” USCIRF Commissioner Gary Bauer said in an interview with The Epoch Times, adding that cooperation between these companies and communist authorities is unacceptable.
According to experts, this is because China — which is home to 18 of the world’s 20 most monitored cities, according to a study by British technology website Comparitech — is currently using an armada of advanced American surveillance technology to spy on and suppress religious communities. This includes high-tech cameras, facial recognition software, smartphone applications, advanced GPS location tracking and even DNA and biometrics data collection.
“No authoritarian state has leveraged digital technologies more successfully than modern China,” Chris Meserole of Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution, said during the hearing.
According to Messerole, the results of such punitive measures from the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) crackdown on religion, culture and free speech, have always been devastating and tragic — and several US companies are complicit.
Tech giant Apple, for instance, kowtowed to pressure from the Chinese government and removed or rejected thousands of apps from the Chinese version of its App Store.
According to Lobsang Sither, a Tibetan-in-exile who heads the digital security program at a human rights advocacy group called the Tibet Action Institute, Apple’s decision to censor its own digital marketplace betrayed its recent call for a “more just world for everyone.”
Aside from Apple, other tech giants such as Intel and Nvidia have sold technologies such as artificial-intelligence chips to Chinese manufacturers, including surveillance equipment maker Hikvision, which is one of nearly 50 Chinese companies on a U.S. sanctions list for their involvement in human rights violations. (Related: Popular “woke” and “socially conscious” brands benefiting from Uyghur slave labor – report.)
Hikvision, according to a November 2019 report by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, is involved in the mass detention and trafficking of ethnic Uyghur Muslims from China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang.
The report detailed that an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities currently reside in concentration camps built by the CCP purportedly to weed out dissidents and prevent the spread of “religious extremism.” The Uyghurs, according to the Commission, are then shipped off to work in several factories — some of which have been tapped by several global brands.
This was corroborated by a study released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which noted that massive global companies and brands such as Amazon, GAP, H&M, Nike, Apple, Samsung, Sony and Victoria’s Secret and others, are actually part of an extensive supply chain that uses Uyghur Muslims as “forced labor.”
Aside from tech firms, two major American pension funds — the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System — have been revealed to have had personal financial stakes in Hikvision.
As a response to these findings, the U.S. administration has since blocked further investment by U.S. federal retirement funds into Chinese firms, citing “present significant national security and humanitarian concerns.”
In a speech earlier this month, Attorney General William Barr called out corporate America for allegedly becoming too subservient to Beijing. He noted that because Hollywood and U.S. tech firms have been "too eager" to access the Chinese market, they essentially “allowed themselves to become pawns of Chinese influence.”
“For the sake of short-term profits, American companies have succumbed to [Chinese] influence, even at the expense of freedom and openness in the United States,” Barr said.
Bauer noted that corporations — especially the multinational ones — may need to step back and reassess their stakes in China.
“If they’re concerned about their brand, they need to understand that if it becomes obvious that they’re cooperating with the Chinese communists to oppress, discriminate against people, that that is going to hurt their brand and their profits a lot more than if they irritate the Chinese Communist government,” Bauer stated.
Much of the suppression levied on religious minorities in China, according to Washington-based ecumenical organization International Christian Concern, stems from the CCP’s systematic campaign of Sinicization — a term first coined by the Party in 2015 — which aims to make religious groups submit to socialism and assimilate them into “a unified identity with Chinese characteristics.” This campaign has since led to the creation of several government-approved churches and religious groups.
Churches that are not in any way affiliated with the government are branded “heterodox” organizations, which are then subjected to intensified surveillance — both offline and online — with authorities often cracking down on them for practices that are deemed to be not aligned with “normal religious activities.”
Gina Goh, ICC’s regional manager for Southeast Asia and the author of the report, noted that such crackdowns often happen mainly because China’s vaguely worded constitution allows authorities to arbitrarily define what falls within the realm of “normal religious activities.”
According to Goh, this gives the government the power to disband churches and other religious organizations.