Thursday, April 22, 2021

US proposes bill to combat Beijing’s censorship of American companies

The legislation would hold Beijing accountable for its growing efforts to stifle criticism beyond its borders.

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Deeply divided Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress are finding common ground in confronting China over censorship of American companies.

A bipartisan group of US senators will propose legislation as soon as Wednesday to hold Beijing accountable for its growing efforts to stifle criticism beyond its borders, Senator Jeff Merkley told Reuters.

US officials have long complained that the Chinese government has increasingly sought to suppress opposition to the ruling Communist Party by coercing American companies to take pro-Beijing stances.

Former attorney-general William Barr said last year that Hollywood companies routinely censor their films to appease China, which last year overtook the US as the world’s largest film market.

National Basketball Association games were taken off the air in China for a year in 2019 following a tweet from the Houston Rockets manager backing Hong Kong democracy protests.

In 2018, the Chinese government compelled global airlines and hotel chains to change their online references to Taiwan to imply the self-ruled democratic island is part of China.

The new censorship bill would direct the president to set up an interagency task force to seek a solution to China’s bullying of US companies.

“We must monitor and address the impacts of China’s censorship and intimidation of Americans and our companies, so we can create a strategy to safeguard our bedrock freedom of speech and hold those accountable who suppress and destroy it,” Merkley said.

Some are calling for a stronger response, such as making it easier for American employees to sue if fired based on pressure from China, or requiring US universities to disclose financial ties to Confucius Institutes, which are Chinese government-backed cultural centres.

President Joe Biden, who has voiced concern about China’s “coercive and unfair” trade practices and endorsed a Trump administration determination that China has committed genocide in its Xinjiang region, has signalled his administration will maintain pressure on Beijing.

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