A U.S. Tie to Surveillance Push in Chinese Cities (Updated)
Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for U.S. President, has spoken out in tough terms against China, saying about the country’s leadership, “A nation that represses its own people cannot ultimately be a trusted partner in an international system based on economic and political freedom.” According to a report in the New York Times, however, Romney stands to profit financially from Bain Capital, a private equity firm that is investing in Chinese surveillance equipment:
In December, a Bain-run fund in which a Romney family blind trust has holdings purchased the video surveillance division of a Chinese company that claims to be the largest supplier to the government’s Safe Cities program, a highly advanced monitoring system that allows the authorities to watch over university campuses, hospitals, mosques and movie theaters from centralized command posts.
The Bain-owned company, Uniview Technologies, produces what it calls “infrared antiriot” cameras and software that enable police officials in different jurisdictions to share images in real time through the Internet. Previous projects have included an emergency command center in Tibet that “provides a solid foundation for the maintenance of social stability and the protection of people’s peaceful life,” according to Uniview’s Web site.
Such surveillance systems are often used to combat crime and the manufacturer has no control over whether they are used for other purposes. But human rights advocates say in China they are also used to intimidate and monitor political and religious dissidents. “There are video cameras all over our monastery, and their only purpose is to make us feel fear,” said Loksag, a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Gansu Province. He said the cameras helped the authorities identify and detain nearly 200 monks who participated in a protest at his monastery in 2008.
Update: The Los Angeles Times reports Romney’s response to the story:
“I’m not familiar with that report and so I really can’t respond to it,” Romney said when asked about the reports of Bain’s investments in Uniview Technologies. “Any investments that I make are managed by a blind trust. I don’t make investments in Bain or anywhere else. That’s done by a trustee who makes decisions that he thinks are correct.”
He suggested that the story — and the focus on Bain’s activities — were part of an effort by President Obama and the Democratic National Committee to draw attention away from the nation’s economic struggles. “They’ll try and find the most attenuated attacks they can come up with, but frankly the American people are tired of that. They want to have a leader that will actually get America working again, and I will,” he said.