Too often libertarians defend this collaboration with tyranny because they apparently believe either that (1) private businesses should be allowed to do anything which is profitable, or (2) technology is per se liberating and that the Chinese government’s attempt to be repressive will inevitably be futile. The first is a moral judgment I disagree with, the second is a prediction based on historical evidence which I also disagree with.
Neither of these rationales can justify American firms creating and installing for a profit what Kopel accurately calls the “architecture of repression.”
If Ma Bell had installed phones in Russia during the Cold War, and in the process helped the KGB wiretap the Russian people to round up dissidents, there would have been howls of anger. What is happening now is no different.
China today is not as bad as the USSR was, and we do not want or need a new Cold War against China. But when the Chinese government behaves oppressively Americans should not make excuses for it, or worse, profit from it. They should complain about it, loudly and publicly. If this embarrasses the Chinese government, good. When someone does reprehensible things, public disgrace may be a way to stop or limit the conduct. If this means that the Chinese will retailiate in some way, so be it.
Assisting the Chinese Government to create a state-of-the-art tyranny does not hasten the day when China will be a “normal” country which allows basic human rights like free political speech. Establishing principles and insisting that they be met will work much better.
Why this is not provoking more outrage is an interesting question. Business-minded Republicans don’t want to do anything which will risk trade with China. Why liberals say little about such bad behavior is less obvious. Possibly it is simply that opposing China in any way is a position which is associated with the hawkish wing of the GOP and with the religious right, so by a process akin to magnetic repulsion, liberals cannot bring themselves to protest human rights abuses in China too often or too loudly, since to do so they would be have to be seen agreeing with people they hate.
Nonetheless, I hope we will see more activism to publicize, protest and punish this disgraceful conduct by private businesses as vendors to tyrants.
(We had a good argument in the comments to this post on this very issue.)