This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
During the Trump administration, Keith Krach was under-secretary of state for economic growth, energy, and the environment. He oversaw the development and implementation of the Clean Network Alliance of Democracies, a U.S.-led global effort to address long-term threats to data privacy, security, human rights and collaboration from authoritarian actors. In July 2020, he was also the first American diplomat to call China’s mistreatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang a genocide.
Now 65, Krach chairs the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue, an independent, bipartisan think tank at the intersection of technology and U.S. foreign policy, based in Washington, D.C. He recently spoke with Alim Seytoff of Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur service. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
RFA: On Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, you re-shared an opinion piece you had written about the genocide of the Uyghurs. What is the significance of also remembering the ongoing Uyghur genocide on this day?
Krach: Communist China is committing punishable genocide as defined by the U.N. in Xinjiang and elsewhere with Uyghurs and other minority populations. It’s a time to really remember that, but more than just remember and more than just talk about it, it’s time to do something about it. Those were many of the initiatives when I was an under-secretary of state, and now as chairman of the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy, we’re continuing that.
RFA: The international community coined the phrase “never again” because no one wanted to experience another genocide again after the Holocaust. But it happened again and again, in Rwanda, in Darfur, and in Myanmar with the Rohingya, and we’re still seeing it happen with the Uyghurs. Does “never again” really mean anything in international relations, or is it just a catch-phrase?
Krach: It’s got to be more than a phrase, and it’s really up to all of society to enforce that. The thing that I learned when I was running U.S. economic diplomacy was that this precious democracy and the freedoms we have are an unnatural act because the natural order of things is the bad king, the dictator and the emperor. When you have that kind of authoritarian rule, it really lends itself to genocide, so you’ve got to fight every day to have [democracy].
That’s why I have so much respect for the U.S. government and for the people. Regardless of a lot of the drama that’s going on in domestic politics, these guys are professional, and we’ve got to stay on that. But it takes an all of society’s approach. That was the whole emphasis in terms of our campaign against the Uyghur genocide.
I went on national TV [in 2020] and was first government official to actually label those human rights atrocities in Xinjiang as genocide. And then, I wrote a letter to all U.S. CEOs, university governing boards and civil society leaders, alerting them to the fact. I’ve been a public company CEO many times, and I’ve been chairman of Purdue University’s board of trustees, but I didn’t know about this. So the first thing is to educate, but the second thing is to do something about it. That’s when I asked them to check their supply chains to make sure they were free from forced labor, and also asked them to divest from any Chinese companies that facilitate the human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
RFA: When you were under-secretary of state, you issued a business advisory to many American corporations doing business with China about the dangers and risks of possibly being complicit with Uyghur forced labor and genocide. Do you think that has been very effective?
Krach: It woke up a lot of boards of directors. The way I put it, it was their moral responsibility and their fiduciary duty to make sure that they did not enable human rights abuses. In April, I penned an article in Fortune magazine that said to make your China contingency plan at the next board meeting. What I see now from prominent U.S. board members and those in Europe and Japan, is that they are developing China contingency plans because they see the genocide that Xi [Jinping] is committing, and they see that he is cracking down on the private sector. They see that he’s amped up aggression with Taiwan and the potential for an invasion, and they’re creating contingency plans.
A lot of these companies have experienced pulling out of Russia and losing hundreds of billions of dollars with a bloody, unprovoked invasion, so they don’t want to have it happen again. So, it’s being discussed, and a number of corporations are standing up, but we’ve got a long way to go.
RFA: At the World Economic Forum in January, Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He stated that the West should abandon its Cold War mentality and that China is now open for business. He also held a separate meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and invited her to visit the country. There is a lot of excitement on Wall Street with many corporations looking to invest in China now that the COVID lockdowns are over. How should we read this in light of the ongoing genocide and the tragic stories of people who lost their lives because of the strict zero-COVID policy?
Krach: One of the big things we’re doing is we’re shining the light of transparency on China, which also means we’ve got to shine the light of transparency on ourselves. You brought up the World Economic Forum that I’ve been going to for 20 years. … This is the premier gathering of governments and corporations along the lines of social responsibility. Before I wrote last year’s op-ed, I went through that website backwards and forwards. It’s a complicated, all-inclusive website, and I couldn’t find anywhere any mention of Uyghurs or anything on the genocide in Xinjiang. What that shows is that they’re conflicted.
China’s strategy is to seduce with money and reinforce with intimidation and retaliation. Here you have that prominent forum and all about talking about human rights, and they don’t even mention it. Now, that’s kind of hypocritical.
You brought up Wall Street. We just finished a case study on ESG [environmental, social and governance standards] and solar and how 90% of the solar business is being manufactured in Xinjiang with the two biggest unregulated coal-powered plants in the world, and with Uyghur slave labor. One of the things we talk about in that case study is a company like BlackRock, which has been financing these Chinese companies that perpetuate the surveillance state and perpetuate genocide. So, we’re doing our best to shine the light on these companies, and people are beginning to step up. The best way to effect it is to ring the cash register over there in Xinjiang in an all-society movement.
RFA: Many Uyghurs, including those in exile, see no end in sight for the genocide. They are not in touch with their loved ones. Many of them have been detained, disappeared or have died in Chinese internment camps. What should the U.S. government or Western nations should do to end the genocide?
Krach: When we built the Clean Network Alliance of Democracies to defeat China’s master plan to control 5G, it was a rally that unified like-minded nations because that has a very powerful voice. You see countries like the Czech Republic and France match our position in terms of declaring it punishable genocide. That’s the first step.
The other key thing is you’ve got to leverage the innovation and the resources of the private sector. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure, and we’ll continue to put it on these corporations using forced labor in their supply chains. There are legal and reputational implications for those companies, so the business side is key. Universities are really key because they have big endowment funds, and we can put pressure on them because they’re all about academic freedom and human rights. So, we’ve got to rally those folks as well. Congress has begun to step up in terms of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. The key thing of what I learned from the government is once these bills get signed off, it all comes around to the implementation. And that’s where every citizen’s got to keep the pressure on in terms of the implementation of these laws.