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Bain, Romney and Chinese surveillance

One issue we’ve tried to draw attention to here– an issue which deserves far more attention than it gets– is the extent to which Western-owned companies provide technology which helps repressive regimes stay repressive.

We’ve reported how companies like Microsoft and Yahoo have helped the Chinese government control access to the Internet– and even help authorities track down track down dissidents.

Last November we reported how companies in the UK, Ireland and Sweden were helping Iran to suppress anti-regime protests by providing location tracking and text-message monitoring equipment.

Now we learn that a company called Uniview Technologies– which sells surveillance equipment to the Chinese government– is owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

According to a New York Times report:

[Uniview] 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.

Ah, yes. The people’s peaceful life.

The Times reported:

Mr. Romney has had no role in Bain’s operations since 1999 and had no say over the investment in China. But the fortunes of Bain and Mr. Romney are still closely tied.

The financial disclosure forms Mr. Romney filed last August show that a blind trust in the name of his wife, Ann Romney, held a relatively small stake of between $100,000 and $250,000 in the Bain Capital Asia fund that purchased Uniview.

In a statement, R. Bradford Malt, who manages the Romneys’ trusts, noted that he had put trust assets into the fund before it bought Uniview. He said that the Romneys had no role in guiding their investments. He also said he had no control over the Asian fund’s choice of investments.

All worth noting. But for Romney the uncomfortable fact remains: he is profiting from investment in a company the helps the Chinese police clamp down on dissent.

In public comments and in a statement posted on his campaign Web site, Mr. Romney has accused the Obama administration of placing economic concerns above human rights in managing relations with China. He has called on the White House to offer more vigorous support of those who criticize the Chinese Communist Party.

“Any serious U.S. policy toward China must confront the fact that China’s regime continues to deny its people basic political freedoms and human rights,” according to the statement on his Web site. “The United States has an important role to play in encouraging the evolution of China toward a more politically open and democratic order.”

Well said, Mitt.

Update: George in the comments notes (via allgov.com) that “John Kerry, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also owns a stake in Uniview through funds invested by his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry.”

Like Romney, he has some explaining to do.