Trade negotiations between the U.S. and China have been tense for several months with Americans demanding President Trump hold the Chinese Communist government accountable for human rights violations, espionage, and stealing intellectual property.
Yet while the President’s administration attempts to hold China’s feet to the fire on the international stage, Congress should be applying pressure to big tech companies that do business with China like Microsoft.
Politicians have begun showing concern over Silicon Valley’s close relationship with the Chinese Communist government. Companies like Google have a long and public history of making concessions to China on censorship and even allegedly aiding the Chinese military, for which senators, including Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, and Josh Hawley, have criticized them.
Congress needs to apply an equal amount of pressure and criticism on Microsoft, which arguably has a deeper connection to the Chinese Communist government. (RELATED: DHILLON: Microsoft Wants To Pick The News You Read)
Microsoft, which is working on software to protect election integrity in the U.S., has worked with China to censor terms the Chinese government finds controversial, including “Dalai Lama” and “Falun Gong.”
Academics from Microsoft Asia are also working with a Chinese military university on artificial intelligence to develop better facial recognition analysis. Experts believe it will ultimately end up being used for surveillance and censorship, according to The Financial Times. Between March and November 2018, those academics co-authored three papers with researches affiliated with China’s National University of Defense Technology.
This technology would be able to detail slight ethnic differences, something obviously useful to China for its oppression of the Uyghurs and Kazakhs. In 2018, the university that built the facial recognition database used against China’s ethnic minorities held a conference on biometric research, and one of their keynote speakers included a Microsoft researcher named Gang Hua. Microsoft has insisted that the company is not participating in this research but would not comment on their researcher’s participation.
While Microsoft insists they are not working with the Chinese government on any surveillance projects, a report by Forbes shows it’s much more complicated than the company would like to admit. Microsoft is investing or a business partner in at least three Chinese companies, including YITU Technology, DeepGlint, and HYDATA, that develop artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology that is being used by the Chinese government and military. (RELATED: Trump Admin Gives $10 Billion Cloud Computing Project To Microsoft)
Microsoft has also turned a blind eye when China has used its technology to work against the U.S. China used the Microsoft website LinkedIn to recruit spies in the U.S. according to a report by The New York Times. The Chinese company has approached thousands of Westerners who work in elite industries, including academia and politics.
The Trump administration realizes the threat China poses to the U.S. and has received praise from even progressive billionaire George Soros over how aggressively they’ve combated the communist regime. In The Wall Street Journal op-ed, Soros stated, “The administration rightly declared Beijing a strategic rival and placed Huawei, China’s multinational telecommunications giant, on the Commerce Department’s so-called ‘entity list’ as a national-security threat.” Another millionaire, however, who condemned President Trump’s actions was Microsoft CEO, Brad Smith. In September he asked Trump to end his tech ban and allow Microsoft to do business with Huawei. Smith said Trump’s actions against Huawei were “unAmerican.” (RELATED: FACT CHECK: Did Bill Gates Say, ‘I Choose A Lazy Person To Do A Hard Job’?)
Several senators signed a letter to Microsoft’s CEO explaining that Huawei is a looming national security threat. This clearly did not have the intended effect, the CEO being far more concerned with his company’s economic interests than the national security interests of the U.S.
After much lobbying by Microsoft, the Commerce Department issued the most significant exemption to the ban to the American tech giant. A bipartisan group of 15 Senators, including Hawley, Cotton, Chuck Schumer, and Elizabeth Warren, wrote a letter to the Trump administration expressing concerns over the waiver.
While Congress should press the president to hold firm on China, they should also demand accountability from American companies like Microsoft. There is more that can be done besides writing letters. Senators should hold hearings and investigations into Silicon Valley and how they are investing in technology that will benefit the Chinese government and military to the detriment of the U.S., as well as ethnic minorities living in China.
Ryan Girdusky is a writer based out of New York. Follow him on Twitter @RyanGirdusky, see more of his work at RyanGirdusky.com.
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