On Dec. 1, Tesla moved its headquarters to Harold Green Road in Austin, officially becoming a Texas company.
On Dec. 23, with the backing of a nearly unanimous House and Senate, President Joe Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, the latest step by the U.S. government to try to interrupt, if not stop, the deplorable campaign against a minority population in the Xinjiang region of China.
On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Tesla has opened a showroom in the capital of Xinjiang, with the company issuing a cheery announcement on China’s state-controlled Weibo social media platform that “Tesla (heart) Xinjiang.”
We cheered Tesla moving to Texas and believe its innovative push toward electrifying cars is the future the country and the world need.
But it’s also true that Tesla’s relationship with China points up the concerning ways U.S. companies are entangled with an increasingly brazen and authoritarian government that has no intention of pairing its wealth from open markets with political freedom for its people.
The Chinese government has moved aggressively against companies that have tried to demonstrate moral courage. Intel embarrassed itself just before Christmas with an abject apology after it told suppliers it would not use labor or goods from Xinjiang. It’s not alone. A long list of American companies do business in Xinjiang even as the Biden administration has formally labeled China’s actions in the region genocide.
That might get harder. Companies can now face sanctions under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. They have a burden of proof that their factories and suppliers are not benefiting from slave labor or coerced labor, something that has been credibly documented in Xinjiang.
The question with Tesla is not so much the production of goods, but the willingness to dance to the Chinese government’s tune on Xinjiang. It’s hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, and business as usual follows.
In some ways, that’s just as worrisome as actually doing business there. We need American companies to represent American values abroad. No one is so naïve as to believe that we can simply or quickly disentangle our economy from China’s. The U.S. and Chinese economies are in such a deep symbiotic relationship that even degrees of separation are painful.
But we have to draw boundaries, both governmental and corporate, that demand more from China in return for its admission to the global market. We failed to set and enforce those benchmarks as it became a powerful world player.
Simply acquiescing to its anti-democratic and inhumane policies because that’s how business gets done is not acceptable. Tesla and every other American company should know that and act accordingly.
• The Dallas Morning News editorial board via The Associated Press