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Americans' concerns about China's geopolitical threats and giant trade surpluses lack an effective voice for change. Anti-China sentiment, without countervailing action, will not change that country's behavior. China threatens to invade Taiwan, which the U.S. promises to defend. The Philippines and the entire South Pacific region are at risk for China hegemony, which may lead to war. Most recently, China has declared support for, and is a principal supplier of arms to, Russia. Yet U.S. consumers, unaware of products' "country of origin" (COO) when shopping online, bolster China's economy by buying the goods it produces. Are we not condoning China's behavior, helping it become dominant militarily and economically, by unwittingly purchasing China-made goods?

In 2023 China's merchandise trade surplus amounted to $832 billion. Online sales account for a substantial part of that surplus. Empowering consumers to curb China's offensive geopolitical and economic behavior by clearly providing COO information in internet product sales will require Federal Trade Commission rulemaking or congressional legislation mandating it. Laws in effect since 2020 in India and 2021 in the E.U. and the U.K. could serve as a pattern. COO information displayed online would permit consumers to decide if they want to support China's economy, or not.

Armed with COO information, online shoppers can become effective participants in a global marketplace. Their purchases can positively influence U.S. allies' and other countries' ability to compete based on their reputations for, among other things, fair labor standards, human rights protections, product qualities and simple personal preferences.

Consumer protections available elsewhere are now denied U.S. consumers due either to official neglect or e-retailer political clout. Customs regulations and International Trade Commission rules provide that imported products must be marked with a foreign COO to inform the ultimate purchaser in the U.S. of the country in which the imported article is made, and to protect domestic producers. That marking is useless if the U.S. consumer's decision is made in an online marketplace, because COO information is unavailable there when the purchase is made.

Americans could show disapproval of China's military threat and help correct the China trade imbalance by using COO information when shopping online. That information will not be furnished by Amazon, Walmart and all internet retailers unless required by law.

William T. Dolan, of Minneapolis, is a retired attorney.