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VIDEO: Rubio Chairs China Commission Hearing on Digital Authoritarianism & The Global Threat to Free Speech
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), chair and cochair of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), today convened a hearing entitled “Digital Authoritarianism & The Global Threat to Free Speech.”
In February, Rubio warned of Beijing’s efforts to influence American public policy and basic freedoms. Last October, Rubio and Smith released the CECC’s 2017 Annual Report on human rights and the rule of the law in China.
A rough transcript of Rubio’s opening remarks at the hearing is below:
RUBIO: The topic of course of today’s hearing is freedom of expression and China’s pervasive and unrelenting efforts to stifle speech at home and now increasingly abroad. And so it is timely and it is important. We have long known of the Chinese Communist Party’s massive censorship regime and suppression of free speech and expression within its own borders. The Commission’s Political Prisoner Database testifies to the human toll of the Chinese Communist Party’s repression in this regard. But now the Party is increasingly exporting its authoritarianism abroad, trying to suppress speech, stifle free inquiry and seek to control narratives around the world. America and other like-minded nations must contend with this long arm of China and the growing threat it poses to our open, democratic systems.
With the conclusion of last month’s 2018 National People’s Congress, the Chinese President and Communist Party General Secretary, emerged newly empowered and emboldened, no longer tethered by term limits, and overseeing a noteworthy expansion of Communist Party control over every aspect of China. These institutional developments reinforce his directives to Chinese media outlets to exhibit “absolute loyalty” to the Party and his declaration in 2016 that all media “must be surnamed Party” and convey positive news about China in conformity with the Party’s ideology.
China’s vast censorship regime is without parallel. Freedom House’s 2017 Freedom on the Net report named China “the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom” for the third consecutive year. And the Commission’s most recent Annual Report noted the increased detention and criminal prosecution of citizen journalists who are a key source of information on labor protests, petitioning the government for redress of grievances, and other rights defense efforts. These detentions hinder the ability of those of us outside China to know what is happening inside the world’s most populous nation.
Foreign journalists face restrictions and harassment, including, physical abuse, physical and online surveillance, denying or threatening to deny reporters’ visas, restricting their access to certain areas of the country, harassment of sources and news assistants. Restrictions on expression are not limited to journalists. A State Department travel advisory that was issued in January of this year warned of the following, and I quote, “security personnel have detained and/or deported U.S. citizens for sending private electronic messages critical of the Chinese government.”
The latter point underscores China’s surveillance efforts which feature prominently in any discussion of government censorship or curbs on free expression. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is an incubator of sorts where authorities have pursued invasive and involuntary collection of personal data that includes DNA and fingerprints from individuals, and all have implemented the widespread use of facial recognition systems, all set against the backdrop of the detention of thousands of Muslims in “political education centers.”
Nationwide, the Chinese government is in the process of implementing a social credit system, which if successful will track and compile data on every Chinese citizen and possibly even rank them based on their behavior, including their online speech. In fact, there was an open source report yesterday about an individual, the first one banned from traveling because of his “score” or profile. Made possible by the massive collection of citizens’ data and a growing network of hundreds of thousands of surveillance cameras as well as voice and facial recognition capabilities, experts anticipate that the system will be used to punish those viewed as insufficiently loyal to the Communist Party.
Any discussion of censorship and surveillance invariably turns to technology. Foreign technology firms, many of them household names here in America, are clamoring, begging to have access to the vast Chinese market. Or for those already there are increasingly willing to make Faustian bargains in pursuit of their bottom line. Consider for example, Apple, in February they transferred cloud data in China, to servers in China that are run by a state-owned Chinese firm, in order to comply with last year’s cyber security law. And yet we see its CEO at international forums basically touting it’s great partnership with China, and thanking them for their openness while sometimes critical of our own country. And when this sort of compliance to these sorts of laws leads to complicity and rights abuses, it cannot simply be business as usual.
Look beyond China, it seems not a week goes by without some story of China’s long arm threatening free and open society, as Professor Hamilton can no doubt attest. A key element in the Chinese government’s long arm efforts is focused on information technology and internet governance or sovereignty. They assert national control of the internet and social media platforms not only in recent domestic cyber legislation and development plans but also at international gatherings. Additionally, there are growing examples of attempts by the Chinese government to guide, buy, or coerce political influence and control discussion of what they deem “sensitive” topics.
China’s Great Firewall, grave rights violations in ethnic minority regions, arrests of citizen journalists, and rights lawyers, suppression of speech—these are the familiar markings of an authoritarian, one-party state. But to the extent that the same authoritarian impulses animate the Chinese government and Party’s efforts abroad, including inside the United States, it directly threatens our most deeply held values and our national interests. So, I look forward to today’s testimony.
I regret that a previously scheduled witness, Mr. Roy Jones, an American worker who was fired from his job at Marriott for inadvertently “liking” a tweet posted by a pro-Tibet group, is unable to join us. His story, which has now been well documented, is a painful and poignant reminder of the Chinese Communist Party’s long arm, of their ability to coerce and get witting or unwittingly cooperation from American corporations and companies who are interested in protecting their market status in China, even if it means firing an American worker the way Marriott did, because they liked a tweet or a post about Tibet.
There are very real costs involved if we fail to confront China’s pernicious authoritarianism at home and increasingly abroad, and if we fail to address it Americans here at home and those of us who love democracy and freedom around the world including many of our allies in Europe, and Australia, the Asia pacific region, could find ourselves living in a world where we work somewhere or live somewhere where we cannot speak freely without losing our job or some other benefit, because who we work for, who controls us, is not ourselves, but a foreign government who uses the leverage of foreign access to its market in order to reach here, and impact one of our most cherished principles.