The announcement of the boycott came as the administration lobbied Congress to weaken a bill regarding the forced labor of Uyghurs.
The Biden administration announced it will hold a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, meaning U.S. athletes will still attend and compete, but the U.S. government won’t send any officials. The Chinese government vowed to retaliate.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration made the decision due to China’s ongoing human rights violations. Activists and human rights organizations have been calling to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics since 2015. The Chinese government’s recent forced “disappearance” and “reappearance” of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has only energized the boycotting Beijing Winter Olympics movement. The Biden administration’s announcement is a welcome step.
But the announcement took place at the same time the administration faced criticism of its lobbying Congress to weaken a bill regarding the forced labor of Uyghurs. Those two contradictory actions raise questions about whether the administration is committed to standing up to China and upholding universal values such as human rights.
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, aiming to “ensure that goods tainted with the forced labor of Uyghurs, and others, in the Xinjiang” do not enter the U.S. market. In July, the U.S. Senate passed its version of a similar bill co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. But House Democrats stalled the bill until it passed Wednesday 428-1, as the Biden administration asked Democrats to slow and water down the bill.
Two key players led the Biden administration’s lobbying efforts. One is the administration’s climate czar John Kerry, who reportedly lobbied against the bill out of the fear it would dissuade Beijing’s cooperation on climate change. Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., criticized Kerry on social media.
Another key player is Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. According to the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin, “Sherman’s specific criticism relates to a part of the bill that would require a presumption that all products coming from Xinjiang are tainted by forced labor unless the importer can prove otherwise.” Big corporations such as Apple have been lobbying against the same provision since last year. It is not a coincidence that the Biden administration and big corporations’ interests are aligned.
Frustrated by House Democrats’ inaction, Rubio reintroduced the Uyghur forced labor bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate Democrats used a procedural excuse to block the vote on Rubio’s amendment. Rubio tweeted, “The Biden Administration is actively working to stop the passage of an anti-slavery bill targeting # China’s genocide. That is why they don’t want my amendment on this to get on the defense bill.”
Why did the Biden administration act as if the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) atrocities against Uyghur Muslims is reason to hold a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, but not to support a bill that will prevent goods tainted with forced Uyghur laborers’ blood, sweat, and tears from entering the U.S. market?
Since day one, the Biden administration’s China policy has been full of contradictions like these. On the one hand, it continued some of former President Donald Trump’s tough approaches on China, including expanding the Trump-era blacklist of Chinese companies that Americans companies should not invest in.
The Biden administration also deepened the U.S. partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom by establishing the AUKUS. This alliance will begin with helping Australia develop nuclear-powered submarines as a counterweight to China’s naval expansion in the Asia Pacific.
On the other hand, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced plans to bring American executives to China and further deepen Sino-U.S. economic ties as if everything is fine. The Biden administration also repeatedly capitulated to the CCP’s hostage diplomacy.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) set free China telecom giant Huawei’s senior executive Meng Wanzhou, although Meng admitted she was guilty of some of DOJ’s charges. In return, China released two Canadian hostages it had detained since 2018.
Days before president Biden and Chinese leader Xi Xinping’s virtual summit, the Biden administration sent back to China seven Chinese nationals who were found guilty and served prison terms in the United States. In return, China permitted one U.S. citizen it illegally detained and never formally charged to return to the United States.
During Biden and Xi’s highly anticipated virtual summit, Biden didn’t even bring up important topics such as how the CCP has obstructed an international investigation of the origins of Covid-19.
The Biden administration’s messages on Taiwan are especially confusing. During a CNN town hall, President Biden said that the United States was committed to defending Taiwan if it came under attack from China. The next day the White House clarified that the president wasn’t announcing any policy on Taiwan. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, warned: “Words are important, and we can’t be careless in how we talk about an issue that is so vital to U.S. interests and the security of the Indo-Pacific.”
It seems that after being on the job for almost a year, the Biden administration still doesn’t have a coherent China policy. The mixed signals the administration sent are problematic for three reasons.
First, they do not inspire confidence in the American people that the administration has the competency to protect them and American interests. Consequently, people may not want to lend the administration the popular support it needs to make difficult choices when confronting China.
Second, when the United States needs its allies to establish a united front to stand up to China and uphold universal values, few will follow the U.S. lead because of a lack of confidence that the Biden administration has the political will to see it through.
Third, the CCP may take the Biden administration’s mixed signals as a sign of weakness and be encouraged to take risky actions, such as invading Taiwan sooner rather than later. China’s invasion of Taiwan will not only threaten regional peace but also jeopardize the survival of the liberal democratic world order.
The great power struggle between the United States and China is the most consequential event in our lifetime. Ambiguity in policies and mixed signals could lead to disastrous consequences. The Biden administration needs to show clarity, commitment, and coherence in its China policy.
Unfortunately, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Biden officials keep erecting roadblocks.
Biden administration officials took to their new posts earlier this year with the pledge that they are “putting human rights back at the center of U.S. foreign policy.” An ongoing congressional fight puts the lie to that promise.
According to a new report by Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman expressed the administration’s desire to water down and slow-walk legislation addressing Uyghur forced labor during a call with Senator Jeff Merkley, a cosponsor of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.
At issue was a core component of that bill — a provision that presumes any goods imported from the Xinjiang region were produced using forced labor, unless companies prove otherwise. This makes sense, considering that the tangled multinational supply chains with roots in Xinjiang regularly source materials produced with slave labor; it’s difficult to confirm which products are untainted and therefore in violation of U.S. law. But according to Rogin’s account, Sherman said the administration wanted “a more targeted and deliberative approach” and warned against a unilateral U.S. effort to address the problem.
Translation: Sherman wanted to significantly weaken the legislation. Despite lawyerly White House denials, the administration is clearly lobbying against the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act — and it is doing so in a way that, as Rogin points out, lines up with the position of major corporations who also oppose the legislation.
Just as important, Sherman’s involvement indicates that the push against the initiative is more than the work of John Kerry, desperate to make cooperation with China on climate the top priority of the U.S., human rights be damned.
All of this makes it easier to understand a rank display of political gamesmanship that played out on Capitol Hill this week just ahead of Rogin’s scoop.
Senate Democrats blocked Senator Marco Rubio’s latest attempt to insert the Uyghur forced-labor legislation into the annual defense-authorization package. The Senate actually passed the Uyghur bill unanimously in July, but the House still hasn’t put it to a vote. Frustrated by the House’s delay, Rubio initially tried to get it into the defense bill a week before Thanksgiving but was blocked. He was stymied for the second time this week.
Senate majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi hid behind a procedural excuse, arguing that measures with a bearing on appropriations must begin in the House. But this was a smokescreen. For one, the legislation would have an “insignificant” impact on revenues and spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And if Pelosi had actually wanted to advance the act, she could have done so easily at any point since July.
Pelosi relented Thursday when she met with Representative Jim McGovern, an author of the House’s version of the forced-labor bill. Rubio had hinted that a House vote on the Uyghur legislation could get him to drop his objections to moving the NDAA process along. Just after his meeting with Pelosi, McGovern announced that his bill would indeed receive a vote in the House — a victory for Rubio.
But the act is still far from the finish line. Even if the House adopts McGovern’s bill, that would only begin a new process around that measure (which differs from the Senate version), and there would be many points at which the administration or corporate interests could continue to block or attempt to gut it.
In a hard-hitting floor speech Thursday coming to Rubio’s defense amid attacks by Schumer and Pelosi, Senator Mitt Romney pointed to a green motivation for opposition to the act: “Democrats want cheap batteries for their so-called Build Back Better agenda, and nearly 80 percent of the rare earths, including other materials like lithium and cobalt and the like that are used to make these batteries, come from China.”
Meanwhile, companies with sizable supply-chain footprints in Xinjiang will remain dug in against the bill. About a year ago, the New York Times reported that Apple, Nike, and Coke lobbied against key components of the legislation.
More broadly, following last month’s virtual summit between Biden and Xi Jinping, the White House will be focused on keeping dialogue with the party on track and free of stumbling blocks.
An effort to disentangle corporate American from an ongoing atrocity shouldn’t be consider an inconvenience to be dispensed with, though. If the U.S. is going to prevail in the geopolitical competition with China, it will require an effort on all fronts, not just involving a robust defense budget, strong alliances, and pushback against Chinese espionage and industrial theft, but a willingness to shine a light on the CCP’s grotesque human-rights abuses.
Rubio has been right to be relentless on this, and he should keep it up.
President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday a bill making June 19 a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery but not everyone sees it as progress closing the racial divide keeping Americans apart. Members of the Project 21 black leadership network – which has used the anniversary as an opportunity to encourage other black Americans to celebrate their liberty and self-sufficiency in a nation that offers unlimited opportunities for two decades – said the effort may distract attention from the real problems the black community faces daily.
“Far too many Americans, regardless of their ethnic background, are unfamiliar with Juneteenth. The blessing of liberty was irrevocably granted on June 19, 1865, to those who remained enslaved in Texas, not knowing they had been freed more than two years earlier. For them, this was their declaration of freedom,” said Project 21 member Derryck Green. “While I am agnostic on a national holiday, I don’t want the commemoration hijacked by racial activists who would use it as another tool to demonize white Americans under the pretense of racial justice. As we’ve seen since last summer, this has been destructive to the American experiment.”
The bill, which was passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday after a unanimous vote in the Senate, commemorates the June 19, 1865, arrival of Union troops in Galveston, Texas who brought with them news the Civil War had ended, and that President Lincoln had abolished slavery throughout the Confederacy two-and-a-half years earlier through the Emancipation Proclamation.
Galveston’s former slave population began celebrating its freedom annually on the anniversary of this day. “Juneteenth” grew to become a motivating and stabilizing commemoration for black Texans experiencing the uncertainties associated with their newfound freedom and full integration into American society.
“Juneteenth is already everything but a national holiday since 47 states, local governments, and even private companies recognize it,” said Project 21 member Martin Baker. “Juneteenth was an acknowledgment of the Emancipation Proclamation, which history tells us only applied to the states in rebellion. If we want to celebrate an all-encompassing ‘Freedom Day,’ perhaps we should choose December 6 – the anniversary of when the 13th Amendment was ratified.”
During the debate over establishing the new holiday, some lawmakers raised concerns about its cost. Members of Project 21 however, said they were more concerned whether its creation would be politicized. For example, Senator Ed Markey said when introducing the Juneteenth holiday legislation: “Today we commemorate. Tomorrow, we fight.”
“It is surprising the number of black Americans – let alone all Americans – who are not yet aware” of Juneteenth’s significance, Project 21’s Marie Fischer said. “But to make this a federal holiday is not something I feel is in the best interests of the country, especially now,” she continued before going on to question whether it would help bring the nation together.
“I constantly hear everyone talking about unity, but would a federal holiday end up being a unifier? Or would it give fuel to those who support critical race theory by pointing out a day that marks one group as an oppressor and another as the oppressed? Such a holiday could be easily hijacked by those who insist that blacks only advance when it benefits white elites. Nothing seems to get pushed these days unless it fits a specific narrative,” Fischer said.
“Juneteenth should prompt us not just to take inventory of how far we’ve come, but also realize that – despite the racialized claims of ‘white supremacy’ or ‘systemic racism’ – blacks have the agency and ability to control our own lives,” Green added. “This includes becoming full participants in society.”
The law establishing “Juneteenth” as an officially recognized federal holiday comes roughly a year after the nation was rocked by violent protests following the murder of George Floyd, an African-American man, by a Minneapolis police officer. It will be the eleventh such day, joining a list that includes Christmas, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Independence Day, explorer Christopher Columbus and slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
“With malice toward none; with charity for all . . . let us strive on to finish the work we are in . . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
by Abraham Lincoln
Saturday, March 4, 1865
Fellow Countrymen: At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention, and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. Continue reading
“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
by Abraham Lincoln
March 4, 1861 [Excerpts]
Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that– Continue reading
“The genius of ‘Lincoln,’ finally, lies in its vision of politics as a noble, sometimes clumsy dialectic of the exalted and the mundane. Our habit of argument, someone said recently, is a mark of our liberty.”
by A. O. SCOTT
It is something of a paradox that American movies — a great democratic art form, if ever there was one — have not done a very good job of representing American democracy. Make-believe movie presidents are usually square-jawed action heroes, stoical Solons or ineffectual eggheads, blander and more generically appealing than their complicated real-life counterparts, who tend to be treated deferentially or ignored entirely unless they are named Richard Nixon.
The legislative process — the linchpin of our system of checks and balances — is often treated with lofty contempt masquerading as populist indignation, an attitude typified by the aw-shucks anti-politics of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Hollywood dreams of consensus, of happy endings and box office unity, but democratic government can present an interminable tale of gridlock, compromise and division. The squalor and vigor, the glory and corruption of the Republic in action have all too rarely made it onto the big screen. Continue reading
“Secured by immense power”
by Adam J. White
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, portraying the president’s battle to abolish slavery at the end of the Civil War, illustrates one of the fundamental paradoxes inherent in constitutional democracy: that sometimes high principle can be vindicated only through low politicking. In the last week, myriad political commentators have explored the implications and applications of that point. But by focusing on “Lincoln the politician,” this debate assumes, or at least presumes, an even more significant paradoxical truth: That very political system needed to secure our liberties is sustainable only because the government is empowered to violate our liberties. Continue reading
“So in the end I am left not with concerns but with gratitude: To Spielberg for making this movie, and to my fellow moviegoers, for only when movies succeed will others make similar movies in the future.”
by Walter Stahr
I read somewhere, not long before my first book was published, that being a published author would ruin the experience of going to a bookstore. I scoffed, but I soon learned that it was all too true. A bookstore will have no copy of your precious baby. Or it will have one or two copies, buried so deep in the back that nobody will see them. Or the store has a few copies well-placed, but nobody seems to be paying any attention to your book, much less buying it. Continue reading