As Beijing prepares to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the world faces a moral dilemma. In the past 20 years, China has emerged as the world’s leading authoritarian regime — and amassed an alarming record of human rights abuses. Participation in the Olympics is a long-standing international tradition, but many countries are clearly uncomfortable with Beijing’s behavior.
Unfortunately, some of America’s most well-known companies have no such qualms. They’re happily paying China many millions of dollars to sponsor the games. And by doing so, they’re lending legitimacy to Beijing’s repressive regime.
There have already been calls to boycott Beijing’s “genocide games.” And the U.S., the U.K. and Australia have announced diplomatic boycotts that will preclude government officials from attending the Olympics.
But the Games are moving forward, and the international community is grappling with Beijing’s atrocities — including ongoing crimes in the Xinjiang region of western China. Specifically, since 2017 more than a million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been transferred into a vast network of “reeducation camps” that use surveillance systems, detention centers, and the forced sterilization and abortion of ethnic groups. It’s estimated that at least 80,000 Uyghurs have been sent on to forced labor in factories throughout China.
The U.S. government has declared this treatment to be “genocide.”
But China doesn’t limit its crimes to Xinjiang. There’s also the arrest and torture of political prisoners in Tibet, crackdowns on democratic protesters in Hong Kong and the targeting of Chinese citizens who speak out against the Chinese Communist Party. Add to those, brutal labor conditions throughout China — including the infamous Foxconn factory that required workers to sign a no-suicide pledge — and it’s clear that Beijing cares little about human rights.
Noting China’s genocidal, authoritarian state, the question is why the International Olympic Committee ever agreed to allow China to host an international competition.
But the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing are about to start. And since the Olympics can mean a major global marketing opportunity — both for the host country and its corporate supporters — some of America’s favorite companies are paying millions to Beijing for key sponsorships.
Americans might be shocked to learn that Airbnb, Coca-Cola, Intel, Visa and Procter & Gamble have each committed roughly $100 million to sponsor the Games. Obviously this is done to exploit massive, global advertising. But in practical terms, it means that Coca-Cola, Visa and others are essentially handing many millions of dollars to China’s repressive regime — with no questions asked.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time that major brands have aligned themselves with the CCP. For years, well-known global companies such as Apple, BMW, Gap, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen have been complicit in profiting from China’s forced labor in Xinjiang. It’s estimated that at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors have used forced Uyghur labor in their supply chains.
This is no longer a mere “pocketbook” issue for Americans. Certainly, U.S. consumers should consider what brands they buy — and choose to boycott companies that exploit Uyghur labor. But in a globalized economy, even the everyday investments that Americans make are now becoming interwoven with China’s affairs. And that requires more vigilance.
There are many ways that America’s investable capital is now flowing into China. Investment funds are buying both Chinese sovereign bonds and shares of sanctioned Chinese companies available via U.S. financial markets. There are also exchange traded funds and indexes that include thousands of Chinese companies not directly listed in America’s financial markets. As a result — intentionally or not — U.S. investors may be funding Beijing’s wider ambitions.
All of these investments help Beijing pursue its efforts to overtake the U.S. economy and threaten America’s long-term national security. And it gives Beijing ample funding to continue its surveillance and repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
It may be too late to move the Winter Olympics from China, but popular American companies shouldn’t be supporting China’s human rights violations. And U.S. consumers should reject companies that cozy up to China’s ugly regime.
Olympics or not, it’s never too late to start moving U.S. corporate and personal investment away from China. If there’s any silver lining to the Beijing Olympics, it’s that Americans are becoming more vigilant about where their hard-earned money is going.
• Robby Smith is national security adviser at the Coalition for a Prosperous America.