The US government has escalated its campaign against China by seeking to punish anyone seen to be helping it in any way.
The substance of the move is contained in The President’s Executive Order on Hong Kong Normalization, on which more later. But a recent speech by U.S. Attorney General William Barr revealed that the focus of the escalation was as much perceived domestic collaborators as the Chinese administration itself.
The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] seeks to extend its influence around the world, including on American soil,” said Barr. “All too often, for the sake of short-term profits, American companies have succumbed to that influence—even at the expense of freedom and openness in the United States. Sadly, examples of American business bowing to Beijing are legion.”
Barr then embarked upon a lengthy diatribe about Hollywood altering its movies to placate the CCP, before turning his ire towards big tech. “Hollywood is far from alone in kowtowing to the PRC,” he said. “America’s big tech companies have also allowed themselves to become pawns of Chinese influence.
“In the year 2000, when the United States normalized trade relations with China, President Clinton hailed the new century as one in which ‘liberty will be spread by cell phone and cable modem.’ Instead, over the course of the next decade, American companies such as Cisco helped the Communist Party build the Great Firewall of China—the world’s most sophisticated system for Internet surveillance and censorship.
Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Apple were also singled out as collaborators, which is especially ominous for them when you consider some of the measures contained in Trump’s executive order. It’s worth reviewing sections 4, 5 and 6 especially, which we have reproduced in full below, with our own emphasis added.
Sec. 4. All property and interests in property that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of any United States person, of the following persons are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in:
(a) Any foreign person determined by the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, or the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State:
(i) to be or have been involved, directly or indirectly, in the coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning of individuals under the authority of, or to be or have been responsible for or involved in developing, adopting, or implementing, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Administrative Region;
(ii) to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have engaged in, directly or indirectly, any of the following:
(A) actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Hong Kong;
(B) actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, or autonomy of Hong Kong;
(C) censorship or other activities with respect to Hong Kong that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Hong Kong, or that limit access to free and independent print, online or broadcast media; or
(D) the extrajudicial rendition, arbitrary detention, or torture of any person in Hong Kong or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights or serious human rights abuse in Hong Kong;
(iii) to be or have been a leader or official of:
(A) an entity, including any government entity, that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, any of the activities described in subsections (a)(i), (a)(ii)(A), (a)(ii)
(B), or (a)(ii)(C) of this section; or
(B) an entity whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.
(iv) to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this section;
(v) to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this section; or
(vi) to be a member of the board of directors or a senior executive officer of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this section.
(b) The prohibitions in subsection (a) of this section apply except to the extent provided by statutes, or in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this order, and notwithstanding any contract entered into or any license or permit granted before the date of this order.
Sec. 5. I hereby determine that the making of donations of the types of articles specified in section 203(b)(2) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(2)) by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to section 4 of this order would seriously impair my ability to deal with the national emergency declared in this order, and I hereby prohibit such donations as provided by section 4 of this order.
Sec. 6. The prohibitions in section 4(a) of this order include:
(a) the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to section 4(a) of this order; and
(b) the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.
The wording of this order is so open and broad that it seems to authorise punitive action against any individual or organization that’s even suspected of indirectly offering assistance to China. The legality of all this is very hard to determine, but on the surface it would appear to make it impossible to do business with China in any form if you don’t want to risk incurring the wrath of the US state.