OPINION BY KEITH KRACH AND ELLIE COHANIM
In January, the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this annual day of commemoration, the United Nations urged every country to honor the six million Jewish victims of Nazi genocide by developing programs to prevent future genocides. In an UN ceremony, American and European leaders joined Holocaust survivors in conveying the urgent responsibility to remember the Holocaust by defending the truth—now more than ever. For the last 76 years, we have committed to “never again” permit genocide to happen on our watch.
But it’s happening—right now.
In January, the U.S. State Department determined that genocide is being perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “in a systematic attempt to destroy Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang.” The atrocities include: “imprisonment of over one million civilians by a system of internment, detention camps, house arrest, and slave labor; torture; coercive population control measures, including forced sterilizations, forced abortion, forced birth control; removal of children from their families; coercion of Uyghur women into marriage with non-Uyghurs, and draconian human rights restrictions on freedom of worship, assembly, speech and movement.” The State Department concluded with this haunting comparison: “the Nuremberg Tribunals of World War II prosecuted perpetrators for crimes against humanity, the same crimes being perpetrated in Xinjiang.”
The moral imperative to end the Xinjiang genocide is one of the most unifying bipartisan issues of our time. A resolution introduced by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and John Cornyn (R-TX) designating Uyghur human rights abuses by the CCP as genocide received overwhelming support. Senator Menendez said, “Stopping a genocide starts by standing up and speaking the truth. I hope that Secretary [Mike] Pompeo will join us in calling this genocide by its name.” He did. As has current Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
This genocide against Muslims in China is shockingly reminiscent of the Holocaust. In the prelude to their extermination, the Nazis dehumanized the Jews. They called Jews rats, stripped them of their human and legal rights, and herded them like cattle into concentration camps. Today, official CCP audio recordings reveal party apparatchiks describing Uyghurs as “malignant tumors,” comparing their faith to a “communicable plague” and saying, “you can’t uproot all the weeds hidden among the crops in the field one-by-one; you need to spray chemicals to kill them all.” And recently, disturbing images have trickled out of China showing rows and rows of shaved and shackled Uyghurs kneeling on the ground, waiting to be jammed onto trains and transported to one of 380 concentration camps across China. We have seen this before during the Holocaust—the images of millions of Jews being shipped to a vast network of labor and death camps are seared onto our collective consciousness.
In response to the Nazi atrocities, the United Nations established the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide in 1948. It defines punishable genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Is there any doubt that the CCP’s acts against the Uyghurs fit this definition? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) summoned our values in framing the issue. She said, “If America does not speak out against human rights violations in China because of some commercial interest, then we lose all moral authority.” Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX) expressed the urgency of the choice before us: “We can’t sit idly by and allow state-sponsored cultural genocide of completely eradicating an entire culture to continue. Our silence will be complicit, and our inaction will be our appeasement.”
Where is the World Economic Forum, the ESG community and Blackrock?
The truth is we’ve been silent for decades. The free world not only looked the other way from Communist Chinese crimes, but we financed them by providing access to our capital markets. We not only sent over a treasure trove of our best investment bankers, lawyers, money managers, private equity investors and venture capitalists, but we funded “China Inc.” through our pension funds, university endowments, foundations, mutual funds and bond portfolios. We all did. That was bipartisan, too. Now, we must do something about it.
One of us is a former CEO of public companies and chairman of the board of a major university, and knows the boards of these various institutions have a moral obligation and a fiduciary duty to disclose Chinese holdings and divest from companies enabling human rights violations. One of us is a former under secretary of state who directly communicated this in three separate letters to American CEOs, university governing boards and leaders of civil society organizations.
If “corporate responsibility is social responsibility,” then why are we still financing the CCP’s genocide? And why is it that the U.S.’s largest asset managers talk a good game about protecting human rights, but research shows their track records too often fail to comply with international human rights frameworks and also actively finance entities that cause human harm? Why has the “ESG” community done extraordinarily little about applying the “Environmental, Social and Governance” standards to CCP human rights abuses, and relatively nothing when it comes to enforcing those standards when it pertains to genocide in Xinjiang? And why isn’t the Uyghur genocide among the lengthy list of the topics for the World Economic Forum, which is the preeminent gathering for global social responsibility for governments and corporations—or appear anywhere on its website when its mission is based on “upholding the highest standards of governance with moral and intellectual integrity at the heart of everything it does?”
Is it because of “some commercial interest?” Or fear of the CCP’s retribution?
Is it because Chinese companies are too big to fail? Is it because of conflict of interest or, as Speaker Pelosi politely put it, “some commercial interest?” Or is it due to fear of the CCP’s retribution and the possibility of getting sanctioned?
No one should bend a knee to the CCP. We have the moral high ground on this one. That’s where you—the American citizen—come in. Let your voice be heard. Fear of bad publicity is a powerful motivator. There is strength in numbers—and money, too. ESG investing grew from $17 billion to $17 trillion over the last 15 years. The ultimate lever is voting with your pocketbook. The sound of emptying the cash register will be heard loud and clear on the other side of the world in Xinjiang.
If not you, then who?
If you have a pension plan, if you contribute to your university‘s endowment fund, if you are invested in a mutual fund or ETF (especially if it involves an emerging market index fund), ask if they follow ESG investment guidelines for human rights abuses and check if they disclose their Chinese investments. If not, ask when they will? If not now, then why? If they don’t have a good excuse, maybe it’s time to find another place to invest your money.
Genocide is happening now on our watch. At the UN ceremony in January, didn’t the American and European leaders and Holocaust survivors say we have an urgent responsibility to defend the truth—now more than ever? Haven’t we committed to “never again” permit genocide to happen on our watch? Humanity failed to stop the Holocaust in the 20th century. We must not be too late to stop the CCP’s genocide in Xinjiang in the 21st.
When we say, “Never Again,” we must mean it.
Keith Krach previously served as U.S. under secretary of state and chairman of the board of trustees at Purdue University. He is also the former chairman and CEO of DocuSign and Ariba. Krach was sanctioned by China.
Ellie Cohanim previously served as U.S. deputy special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. She is currently a visiting fellow at Independent Women’s Forum.