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March 16, 2012

On China, Romney’s Money, Mouth in Different Places
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Chinese CameraThe New York Times reports this morning that a company owned by Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s former private equity firm, has significant investments in surveillance equipment makers that cater to the Chinese government:

In December, a Bain-run fund in which a Romney family blind trust has holdings purchased the video surveillance division of a Chinese company that claims to be the largest supplier to the government’s Safe Cities program, a highly advanced monitoring system that allows the authorities to watch over university campuses, hospitals, mosques and movie theaters from centralized command posts.

The Bain-owned company, Uniview Technologies, produces what it calls “infrared antiriot” cameras and software that enable police officials in different jurisdictions to share images in real time through the Internet. Previous projects have included an emergency command center in Tibet that “provides a solid foundation for the maintenance of social stability and the protection of people’s peaceful life,” according to Uniview’s Web site.

Now compare that news with what Romney’s foreign policy white paper says about human rights in China. It’s worth quoting at length to underscore the disparity here:

Any serious U.S. policy toward China must confront the fact that China’s regime continues to deny its people basic political freedoms and human rights. A nation that represses its own people cannot be a trusted partner in an international system based on economic and political freedom.

While it is obvious that any lasting democratic reform in China cannot be imposed from the outside, it is equally obvious that the Chinese people currently do not yet enjoy the requisite civil and political rights to turn internal dissent into effective reform. The United States has an important role to play in encouraging the evolution of China toward a more politically open and democratic order.

If the United States fails to support dissidents out of fear of offending the Chinese government, we will merely embolden China’s leaders...

A Romney administration will vigorously support and engage civil society groups within China that are promoting democratic reform, anti-corruption efforts, religious freedom, and women’s and minority rights. It will look to provide these groups and the Chinese people with greater access to information and communication through a stronger Internet freedom initiative.

Mitt Romney will seek to engage China, but will always stand up for those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy.

Now, back to the Times, which explains how Uniview Technologies’ actions violate, if not the letter, than the spirit of sanctions instituted against Beijing after the Tiananmen:

As with previous deals involving other American companies, critics argue that Bain’s acquisition of Uniview violates the spirit — if not necessarily the letter — of American sanctions imposed on Beijing after the deadly crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square. Those rules, written two decades ago, bar American corporations from exporting to China “crime-control” products like those that process fingerprints, make photo identification cards or use night vision technology. 

Most video surveillance equipment is not covered by the sanctions, even though a Canadian human rights group found in 2001 that Chinese security forces used Western-made video cameras to help identify and apprehend Tiananmen Square protesters. 

It’s worth noting here that this is not the first time Bain has been tied up with problematic Chinese companies. As the Washington Post reported last August:

Romney’s former investment company, Bain Capital, worked on behalf of at least two Chinese companies trying to acquire U.S. technology firms. One case involved Huawei, which Bain joined in its failed bid to buy the software firm 3Com… 

In 2005, a Rand report questioned Huawei’s “deep ties with the Chinese military, which serves a multi-faceted role as an important customer, as well as Huawei’s political patron and research and development partner.”

In 2008, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a multi-agency government panel, blocked Huawei’s plan to buy 3Com.

At the time, as the New York Times reported, the potential deal prompted “several Republican lawmakers — including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — to oppose the deal as one that ‘threatens the national security of the United States.'" Someone should check with those lawmakers now.

Voters should allow Romney a foray into the management of his blind trust – divest of these holdings immediately, as well as any companies that would, in the future, countenance such investments. Profit should not trump human rights in China or American security, especially not when the beneficiary of that profit is running for president.

P.S. For the progressive view on human rights in China and Chinese investments in U.S. assets and companies, see the report I released with Nina Hachigian this week on U.S-China relations in an election year.

Photo: Flickr

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