FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, July 20, 2020
By: Dainel Marans
A number of Republican senators seeking reelection in November are posing as China hawks after careers spent encouraging, and sometimes profiting from, investments by U.S. corporations in the country.
Despite their previous stances and links, these Republicans enthusiastically have adopted the poll-tested GOP talking point of blaming the Chinese government for the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and casting themselves, alongside President Donald Trump, as the group uniquely capable of confronting the U.S. rival.
But Democrats are eager to undermine the new GOP messaging by focusing on the more dovish records these Republicans have toward China.
In Montana, for instance, where GOP Sen. Steve Daines faces a tough challenge from Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, Democrats are already spending money to cast doubt on Daines’ commitment to take a tougher line with China.
As a Procter & Gamble executive, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) helped the company expand in China during the 1990s. As he now depicts himself as a hardliner on China, Daines and the company deny that he was involved in offshoring U.S. manufacturing.
Before entering Congress, Daines spent years as an executive at Procter & Gamble at a time when the industrial giant was shutting down production facilities across the U.S. and expanding production in China. Daines, who lived in China for much of the 1990s, oversaw the company’s efforts to infiltrate the nascent Chinese consumer market with the active collaboration of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Daines went on to become a champion of U.S.-China relations in Congress, supporting trade agreements that increased U.S. companies’ presence in the country.
The company simultaneously began scaling up its operations in China, which Daines was heavily involved in.
Both Daines and the company say that his responsibilities were limited to helping P&G penetrate the nascent Chinese consumer market, overseeing manufacturing expansion to sell household products to Chinese consumers, rather than to export them back to the U.S.
At the time, P&G was building relationships with the Chinese Communist Party’s neighborhood watch committees to hawk their products, a practice that other multinational corporations would subsequently emulate.
As a guest earlier this month on the conservative talk radio show “Open for Business with Tom and Shane” in his home state, Daines began to get annoyed when a Montanan who called in accused him of moving American factories to China.
“We were producing and selling products to compete directly with the Chinese companies,” Daines responded. “Nothing we produced there was shipped back to the United States.”
In any event, the federal government recognized two specific cases during that same period when P&G replaced U.S. production with plants overseas. The Department of Labor awarded workers laid off at P&G plants in Staten Island, New York, and Hatboro, Pennsylvania, with trade adjustment assistance benefits reserved for workers who lost their jobs due to offshoring.
And even if Daines was not involved in offshoring jobs to China during his tenure at P&G, his current harsh line against the country runs counter to a congressional career spent encouraging deeper trade ties between the country and the U.S.
Daines has made “holding China accountable” a central theme of his reelection campaign since early April. In a Facebook ad capable of reaching hundreds of thousands of people, Daines has promised to “EXPOSE China’s deadly cover-up of the China virus.” The language closely mirrors the recommendations of the campaign arm for Senate Republicans, which advised candidates in an April memo to “attack China” for its alleged role in allowing the novel coronavirus to spread, and to also run on re-shoring domestic manufacturing.
But as The Daily Beast reported in May, Daines stands out on Capitol Hill as a cheerleader for U.S.-China relations prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. He has been such an outspoken advocate of opening Chinese markets to Montana cattle exports that he made his fifth official trip to China last August.
He also has used those trips to reassure the Chinese government that the U.S. has no plans to stop recognizing Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. China’s ambassador to the U.S. has called Daines China’s “ambassador to Congress.”
“It’s kind of hard to have this career in the private sector and then in Congress support this free trade with China and then come out as someone who is attacking China,” said David Parker, a Montana State University political scientist whose book, “Battle for the Big Sky,” chronicled Daines’ 2014 election. “It just doesn’t seem to me like it’s terribly believable.”
A spokesperson for Daines’ campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether his history of support for U.S.-China trade and diplomatic relations is inconsistent with his more hawkish tone as a candidate.
“Daines’ new talking points are nothing more than a desperate attempt to save his political career,” Christina Wilkes, a spokesperson for the state party, said in a statement. “This dishonest pivot is just further evidence that Montanans can’t trust him on the issues.”
“The fact that Steve Daines is bringing up the issue of China fundamentally shows that he has some weaknesses because it’s a risky gamble,” Parker said.
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