The CCP’s efforts go well beyond intimidation of well-known human-rights groups. In July, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment of two Chinese nationals alleged to have conducted a 10-year computer hacking campaign for the Chinese government that included the targeting of “individual dissidents, clergy, and democratic and human rights activists in the United States.” Uighurs living in the U.S. have received threats from security officials in China, intended to silence their reports about what has been happening to their family members detained in mass internment camps in Xinjiang. Major U.S. news outlets, Chinese media in the diaspora, activist groups supporting freedom for Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, Chinese human-rights defenders, and campaigners against high-level corruption in China have also been hit with costly website blocks, cyberattacks, threats against advertisers, and pressure to self-censor.
Hong Kong has emerged as a new CCP redline for U.S. corporations, which have come under pressure to censor their own communications and products for audiences outside China.
Read: A newsroom at the edge of autocracy
In October 2019, the Chinese Basketball Association cut ties with the Houston Rockets, and Chinese state television refused to air Rockets games, after the Houston general manager, Daryl Morey, tweeted, “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” a slogan popular among prodemocracy demonstrators in the territory. Chinese officials expressed outrage. The NBA and various players quickly apologized and distanced themselves from Morey’s post. This in turn sparked criticism from groups such as Freedom House, which objected to the NBA’s failure to defend free speech. Human-rights protesters who showed up at NBA games were ejected or had their signs confiscated for holding up slogans as benign as “Google: Uyghurs.”
Hong Kong protesters began covering one eye in August, after a protester’s eye was seriously wounded by police. The American jewelry company Tiffany & Co. was pressured into removing an advertisement that depicted a model covering one eye, after outraged buyers from China complained that it looked like the Hong Kong protest symbol. Tiffany & Co. said its advertisement had been approved in May and was completely unrelated to Hong Kong’s protests, but it removed the ad anyway.
My colleagues at Freedom House are often told that although the repression happening in Hong Kong may be terrible, it doesn’t necessarily affect us here at home. But that’s just not true. CCP repression is already shaping what we can say, where we can travel, the products we buy, and even the news we read.
When such issues are raised with the CCP, it often offers a twofold response: asserting the principles of sovereignty and noninterference in China’s domestic affairs and deflecting the criticism by pointing out problems here in the United States. But while the United States certainly has its own problems, we are well aware of them thanks to our free press, pluralistic political system, and independent civil-society groups like Freedom House. These features of American democracy provide us with the tools to correct long-standing injustice and inequities, and we have an obligation to lend our support to similar democratic processes elsewhere. If the Chinese leadership had any intention of addressing its own people’s genuine grievances, it would not be working so hard to demolish and suppress such instruments of peaceful improvement.
That the CCP routinely breaks Chinese laws and international commitments by violating the rights of people in mainland China and Hong Kong is appalling enough. The regime certainly should not be permitted to do the same in the United States, or any other country.