aerospace, Belt and Road, China, globalization, Honeywell, human rights, manufacturing, multinational companies, multinationals, national security, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, steel, tech, tech transfer, The Wall Street Journal, Uighurs, Xinjiang
Usually, it’s not a terrific idea to begin a piece of writing with a phrase like, “If you want to see something that’ll make you sick to your stomach….” But I think you’ll agree that this recent article from The Wall Street Journal justifies an exception. For its portrayal of the China operations of U.S.-owned multinational manufacturer Honeywell depicts a big company actively helping the dangerous thug dictatorship in Beijing endanger often-intertwined American security and economic interests, and evidently doing so without even a peep of protest from Washington – including during the Trump years.
Journal reporter Trefor Moss’ piece dealt with the question, “How can an American company thrive in China at a time when tensions between the two countries are running high?” His answer: Under Honeywell’s long-time head of China operations, it pursued a strategy of fully immersing “the company in Chinese business and culture—and [not shying] away from helping Chinese companies achieve strategic goals set by Beijing.”
This approach was worrisome enough when this executive, Shane Tedjarati, launched Honeywell China down this path in 2004. By that time, Beijing was not only gutting America’s domestic manufacturing base with a wide range of predatory trade and broader economic practices. But it had also compiled a record of challenging American national security interests through policies like supplying countries like Iran and North Korea with technologies vital to developing weapons of mass destruction and the missiles needed to deliver them.
Now that the People’s Republic has since at least early 2018 been seen as a threat to critical American interests in the Indo-Pacific region requiring a “whole-of-government” response, and that President Biden has declared that “We’re in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st Century. We’re at a great inflection point in history” and that “we’ll maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific…not to start a conflict, but to prevent one,” activities like Honeywell’s in China look alarmingly like colluding with an enemy.
What else can be made of Tedjarati’s position as “a visiting professor at Shanghai’s China Executive Leadership Academy, an elite school that provides leadership training to the Communist Party’s rising stars.”
Or of Honeywell’s sale of industrial automation equipment to one of the state-owned Chinese steel companies that for years been glutting global markets with dumped and artificially cheap product that’s hammered America’s own sector?
Or of its “open” support for the Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese global infrastructure plan widely seen as a way for Beijing to expand its worldwide influence, and that’s got the Biden administration concerned enough to be mounting a U.S. response?
Or of these Honeywell actions (which didn’t make the Journal piece) “[T]he company repeatedly, between 2011 and 2018, sent drawings of parts of US military aircraft to suppliers in foreign countries, including China, asking for price quotes, according to a Department of State charging letter. The manufacturer voluntarily disclosed the violations.
“The engineering prints showed layouts, dimensions and geometries for manufacturing castings and finished parts for military aircraft and engines, as well as other hardware and weaponry. Drawings for parts within the Lockheed Martin F-35 and F-22 stealth fighters, Boeing B-1B supersonic bomber and Pratt & Whitney F135 turboshaft engine were included.”
For good measure, Honeywell has also supplied protective equipment to Chinese security forces operating in western Xinjiang province, where Beijing has been harshly persecuting the Muslim Uighur minority group.
Honeywell did pay a (tiny) fine for its seven years of sharing those drawings. But overall, according to Moss, Tedjarati told him that “No U.S. or Chinese officials have ever told him the company should do, or should avoid doing, specific things in China.”
Honeywell has by no means been the only U.S. multinational to enrich China and strengthen it militarily and technologically for decades. (See, e.g., here and here.) But it may have just won the award for the most brazen. And until these kinds of operations are halted completely, it’ll be hard to describe America’s China policy with the word “serious.”
Full disclosure: I have no financial positions whatever in Honeywell, other than possibly through index funds or exchange-traded funds, and other such vehicles, and have no plans to acquire any.