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Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 7, 2020
Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. BLACKBURN. Madam President, over the past few months, there have been many of us in this Chamber who have taken Big Tech to task over their shady and biased business practices. In more than one hearing, we have grilled them on the privacy, censorship, and antitrust concerns that have allowed us to keep these CEOs in the hot seat, and that grilling has taken place by those of us on either side of the aisle.

These are big, big problems, and they are not going to disappear at the end of this Congress. These are problems that are going to be around.

But one of the advantages of having these companies, like Facebook and Twitter and Google, living in our phones and in our homes is that it is much harder for oppressive governments and global bad actors to hide their crimes from the rest of the world.

Just last year, about this time, the freedom fighters in Hong Kong-- and this is a poster that I used on the floor just about this time, December 9, 2019, and it shows the freedom fighters in Hong Kong. It shows how they were making their case: ``We do not want to become like China.''

These freedom fighters in Hong Kong captured our attention when they filled the streets and demanded an end to the Chinese Communist Party's terrible crackdowns on free speech and expression. While the coverage in the 24-hour news cycle definitely made an impact, it was the millions of tweets and Facebook posts and videos and blog posts that turned their movement into a collective global outcry for an end to violence and terror in Hong Kong.

You see, people saw what was happening there. They saw it in realtime. Even if they didn't fully understand the politics behind these protests, they knew that the disproportionate response by the Chinese Government to stamp out these protests was wrong. As those posts flowed out of Hong Kong, support flowed right back in, and having spoken with many of these brave activists, it really meant the world to them that they were hearing from us.

While all of this was happening, something else--some countermessaging, if you will--was flowing from Beijing. It was a message of total capitulation sent by corporations, sports organizations, the mainstream media, and even powerful national and world leaders. They were all trying to keep the peace on behalf of their own self-interests, but as the days and weeks passed by, their blinders became more and more obvious.

By that time, the online activist community had put the Chinese Communist Party's crimes on full display. What started as a debate on free speech and political autonomy morphed into a full indictment of the Chinese Communist Party's crimes against humanity, against the Uighurs in Xinjiang, in Tibet, and Inner Mongolia, and all across Mainland China.

Thanks to internet freedom efforts made possible by the Open Technology Fund, tweets and videos describing the Chinese Communist Party's intolerance of dissent escaped the Great Firewall and made its way into Western news feeds.

The spread of the coronavirus tore away the veil covering Beijing's corrupt relationship with the World Health Organization and other international organizations and revealed their scandalous coverup of the virus's origins--all that truth right on our phones, right on our iPads and computer screens and on every screen in the house.

Unfortunately, for the millions suffering under the horrors of communism, truth didn't win the day. The people with the most responsibility to speak up stayed silent because they were fearful of retaliation. It was too politically charged, too economically risky. Someone might take their criticisms the wrong way, and, well, we can't have that now, can we?

I know from personal experience what it is like to have the Chinese Communist Party and their allies retaliate against you. Once you speak up, you are going to get it from all sides.

Just last week, a member of the Chinese state media--for all intents and purposes, I would suggest this is a propaganda minister for the Chinese Communist Party. Well, he decided that he had had enough of what we are doing here in Washington to expose Chinese aggression and fired off a series of vile, sexist tweets while conspicuously avoiding the issue at hand. It sounds fairly familiar: Attack the person; attack the messenger.

The thing is, he was just mirroring the tactics used by his government. Beijing is all too happy to prey upon the ignorance of their massive online audience and encourage accusations of racism or xenophobia as the only acceptable responses to evidence documenting their own racist, repressive politics. That, right there, is how you end up with repressive regimes like the one in China gaining so much power on the global stage when those who should know better allow their adversaries to cow them into silence.

I appreciate the importance of diplomacy, but diplomacy is meaningless without consequences. Activists, by their very nature, rise and fall based on their willingness to speak truth to power when the most influential among us allow evil regimes to escape those consequences.

Today, I call on my colleagues to follow their example and use their work in this Chamber to speak truth to power about the crimes of the Chinese Communist Party. We no longer have any excuse not to. If you want proof, pull out your phones and listen to what activists in Hong Kong, in Taiwan, and in Mainland China are telling you--or better yet, listen to what some of your colleagues are telling you.

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong currently sits in jail for the crime of criticizing his government. I repeat this: Hong Kong activist, a young freedom fighter, Joshua Wong, is in jail because he criticized the Chinese Communist party. He criticized his government. His sentencing barely managed a blip on the radar here.

Another Hong Kong activist, Jimmy Lai, was denied bail during his own prosecution specifically because his online newspaper revealed the truths of the Chinese Communist Party's chokehold on their own people. The CCP cut off access to his corporate accounts and those of his employees. So much for Hong Kong's free press. Jimmy Lai and Joshua Wong live in Hong Kong.

In June, the Senate passed a resolution condemning the CCP's repression of speech and expression in Hong Kong. These protests are still happening. Authoritarian crackdowns are still happening. We must keep speaking about this.

In Xinjiang, CCP forces are systematically targeting and eliminating the Uighur Muslim population through mass surveillance, population control, and incarceration in internment camps. Yes, you heard me-- internment camps. It should make your skin crawl to hear that today, in 2020, this is happening.

Last month, I joined my colleagues Senator Cornyn and Senator Menendez in supporting a bipartisan resolution to finally recognize that what the Chinese Government is doing in Xinjiang constitutes a genocide.

If you are looking for a reason to start speaking out, I can't think of a better way to get started. Speak up on that. Support this resolution, which would not only urge the White House to take action against Beijing but also urge national governments and organizations to get their heads out of the sand and tear away, piece by piece, China's disastrous influence over the global political economy, which is highlighted by the success of the Communist Party's Belt and Road Initiative.

I will add that I was thrilled today with Secretary Pompeo's tweet regarding his once again reupping the countries of concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. China is on this list, as well they should be, as they continue to infringe on religious liberty, and they do engage in systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations. They are doing it every day, and the world is watching.

I tell you, I could monopolize this floor for the next week and lay out every opportunity we have to stand up for the cause of freedom and speak truth to power about the crimes of the Chinese Communist Party.

Here is a white paper that I unveiled earlier this year. There are over 100 specific paths toward how we as a nation unraveled the relationship that we have right now with China. The paper is only 52 pages long. It is a short version. I encourage one and all to take a look at it and to think about how it is that we got to this point where an influential government, active in many major international bodies, including, as of next year, China being in the U.N. Human Rights Council--how can this government perpetrate a genocide against minorities and get away with it because of the appalling cowardice of those who bear witness and choose to do nothing.