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Former House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ed Royce, a Republican from California, has registered as a lobbyist for Chinese tech giant Tencent, which helps implement the Chinese Communist Party's censorship and surveillance regime.

The catch: While in office, Royce was an outspoken critic of the Vietnamese Communist Party's human rights abuses and backed several bills targeting China.

The big picture: Royce is only the latest in a line of former elected officials to lobby on behalf of Chinese companies accused of being complicit in human rights abuses.

Driving the news: Tencent has retained several lobbying firms to help plead its cause in Washington amid the looming ban on WeChat, including Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, where Royce works.

Background: Inside China, Tencent's WeChat is a "super-app" that most Chinese people use not just for messaging but also for banking, hailing cabs, paying bills and running their businesses.

  • Chinese residents know that if they post politically sensitive content on WeChat, Chinese public security officials could show up at their doors within hours. Tencent readily hands over user data to the Chinese government and allows public security officials ongoing access to messages, facilitating the CCP's authoritarian crackdown on any kind of dissent.
  • The Xinjiang public security bureau has used WeChat to identify, surveil and threaten Uighurs abroad, as China has engaged in a sweeping campaign of repression aimed at forcibly assimilating the ethnic minority.

Royce has a long history of criticizing a different Communist party's human rights record:

  • Royce threw his support behind a 2007 bill that would withdraw non-humanitarian support from Vietnam unless the government made progress in human rights, such as the release of political prisoners.
  • He explicitly discouraged the idea that warming ties with Vietnam meant the U.S. could overlook human rights abuses there.
  • "The United States has a growing relationship with Vietnam, particularly in the security and trade arenas. However, human rights remain a core value to us and we cannot segregate them from our on-going engagement with the Vietnamese government," said Royce in a June 2017 statement.

Royce did not respond to a request for comment.

The bottom line: Money talks.

Go deeper

Dec 21, 2020 - World

U.S. warns Chinese investments in Israeli tech industry could pose security threat

Netanyahu meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2017. Photo: Xinhua/Rao Ainmin via Getty Images

The Trump administration is concerned Chinese investments in the Israeli tech industry could harm Israeli and U.S. national security, assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs David Schenker said Monday at a conference organized by the SIGNAL think tank, which focuses on Israeli-Chinese academic cooperation.

Why it matters: The Trump administration has previously raised concerns in private about Chinese involvement in Israel’s booming tech sector. This is likely the first time the administration has done so in public.

Dec 22, 2020 - World

Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive had a counterintelligence motive

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Widespread corruption in China made Chinese government officials especially vulnerable to CIA recruitment, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping sought to mitigate this threat by weeding out corruption, according to a new investigation by Foreign Policy magazine.

Why it matters: The anti-corruption campaign, combined with China's other counterintelligence efforts, may have reduced the CIA's visibility into what is happening on the ground in China.

Dec 22, 2020 - World

U.S. charges against Zoom executive highlight tech's China problem

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice charged a China-based Zoom executive with disrupting video meetings hosted by users outside China that commemorated the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The complaint reveals the now-terminated employee was sending the private data of some U.S.-based users directly to the Ministry of State Security (MSS), China's main civilian spy agency.

Why it matters: Researchers and U.S. government officials have warned that the Chinese government might require China-based employees of U.S. companies to hand over private company data to Beijing. The DOJ's charges indicate those fears are valid.