In a Wall Street Journal oped last month, Mitt Romney laid out “how I’ll respond to a China’s rising power” and criticized the Obama administration’s handling of relations with Beijing. Romney warns of a China as a regional hegemon:
The character of the Chinese government — one that marries aspects of the free market with suppression of political and personal freedom — would become a widespread and disquieting norm.
In the op-ed, the former Massachusetts governor also criticized Obama for failing to press Beijing on human rights and intellectual property violations.
While Romney is quick to criticize Beijing and the White House’s management of U.S.-China relations, an examination of the GOP frontrunner’s investments with Bain Capital — a company he co-founded and once led — suggest he has profited from Chinese surveillance of its own citizenry and from companies that have engaged in intellectual property theft.
The New York Times revealed yesterday that a Bain-run fund in which a Romney family blind trust had holdings purchased Uniview Technologies in December, a Chinese company that claims to be the biggest supplier of surveillance cameras to the Chinese government. Uniview produces “infrared antiriot” cameras and software that allow police to share images in real time and provided technology for an emergency command center in Tibet that “provides a solid foundation for the maintenance of social stability and the protection of people’s peaceful life,” according to Uniview’s Web site.
Human rights advocates say that the rapidly growing number of surveillance cameras in Chinese cities are used to intimidate political and religious activists. “There are video cameras all over our monastery, and their only purpose is to make us feel fear,” Loksag, a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Gansu Province told the Times. He said the cameras helped the authorities identify and detain nearly 200 monks who participated in a protest at his monastery in 2008.
Romney has said he has no role in Bain’s operations but a financial disclosure form filed last August showed that his wife, Ann Romney, held a $100,000 to $250,000 investment in the Bain Capital Asia Fund that purchased Uniview.
In his Wall Street Journal op-ed, Romney wrote, “In the economic arena, we must directly counter abusive Chinese practices in the areas of trade, intellectual property, and currency valuation.”
But Romney’s apparent hypocrisy between his hardline positions on China and his lucrative investment portfolio is on show once again with Bain Capital’s investment in Chinese YouTube competitor Youku. CBS Marketwatch co-founder Bill Bishop writes on his blog, Sinocism, that Romney’s talk of pressing Beijing to better enforce intellectual property rights is in direct contradiction with Bain Capital’s early investment in Youku, a “pirate’s den of copyright infringement” in the site’s early days. A Bain Capital VP now sits on the board of Youku and Youku has reportedly cracked down on copyright violating content. Its newly acquired partner, Tudou, still hosts a variety of pirated and copyright infringing videos.
But if Romney profited from Bain’s ties to Youku and Uniview Technologies, it’s worth examining how the GOP frontrunner’s tough-talk on China can happily coexist with Bain’s investments in companies that have constructed business models around Chinese human rights abuses and intellectual property theft.