Article by: Francesco Arreaga
The Vice President of the United States delivered a speech on October 4, 2018, condemning China’s behavior as it relates to interference in U.S. elections, international trade, aggression in the South China Sea, human rights violations against the Uyghur minority, censorship, stealing intellectual property, persuading Latin American countries to no longer recognize Taiwan, and implementing a “social credit score” to reward loyal citizens and target disloyal citizens.
The Vice President’s claims about China’s interference in U.S. elections echoes the claims that the President made at the United Nations on September 26, 2018. The issue, however, is that there is no substantial evidence to support this claim. What is astonishing is how the administration is willing to make unsubstantiated claims about China’s alleged election interference while at the same time dismissing the substantiated claims of 8 U.S. Intelligence Groups that accuse Russia of interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have requested that the administration corroborate their claims about China’s alleged interference in U.S. elections but have yet to receive such evidence.
The Vice President, however, made a valid claim related to China’s human rights abuses. The United Nations issued a report by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on August 2018, detailing how China has initiated a mass detention program that targets ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities. The report outlines how “two million had been forced into so-called ‘re-education camps’ for political and cultural indoctrination.” According to some reports, the re-education camps are “programs that focus on psychological indoctrination — like studying communist propaganda and giving thanks to Chinese President Xi Jinping — as well as reports of waterboarding and other forms of torture.” It is imperative that the United States and the international community work together to prevent human rights abuses, especially when minority groups are targeted by states.
Another troubling development in China that the Vice President described in his speech is China’s censorship and domestic surveillance program known as the “social credit score.” Kelsey Munro, a reporter for The Guardian, reports how the social credit score is described by some as an “Orwellian tool of social monitoring and political repression.” Kelsey Munro describes how this project is “an ambitious work in progress: a series of big data and AI-enabled processes that effectively grant subjects a social credit score based on their social, political and economic behaviour.” This new surveillance program will have both domestic and international impacts. Domestically, it can prevent people such as Lin Hu, a Chinese journalist that exposed corruption, from purchasing a plane ticket, buying property, taking out a loan, or travelling on the country’s top-tier trains. The program will also impact multinational corporations, NGOs, and social organizations in China. For example, American airlines and other carriers that want to do business in China and not have their social credit score impacted may consider acquiescing to China’s demand that Taiwan not be listed as a country.
The United States faces various challenges in world affairs, especially as it relates to relations with Russia and China. Russia engaged in cyber warfare against the United States when it interfered in the 2016 presidential election and China is increasingly supporting international and domestic policies that are hostile to U.S. interests. It is imperative that the United States respond to these emerging threats through legislation, cooperation with allies, and engagement with international institutions.