China Business

China US Relations: Fair and Balanced.

US China relations

Howard French of the New York Times just came out with a thoughtful and balanced piece on the progression of rights in China, entitled, Despite Flaws, Rights in China Have Expanded. The article tracks its title and it is well worth reading. Plus, I agree with it.

China still obviously has a ways to go, but I do not think it fair or realistic to expect China to instantly be where the United States and Denmark and Canada are today. China will not become “free” overnight, as that virtually never happens (I often cite post-Franco Spain as a rare exception). As I have said from this blog’s inception, I see China following in the path of South Korea and Japan, both of which have made amazing economic and political strides over the last 50 years, but not instantly. China does not deserve a free pass, but it does not deserve unmitigated opprobrium either.

The Washington Post interviewed John McCain on China in an article entitled McCain Urges Bush to Avoid Confrontations on China Trip. McCain has it right on how the United States should act towards China, both in the short term (at the Olympics) and in the long term:

In an interview with The Washington Post at his Arlington headquarters, the prospective Republican presidential nominee advocated a cautious course for Bush, despite U.S. unhappiness with the Chinese crackdown on T1b*t, complaints of harsh repression of domestic dissidents and strained relations stemming from last week’s breakdown of global trade talks in Geneva.

McCain, who harshly condemned Russian behavior in the same interview, said some of China’s actions are “also regrettable, but I don’t think China is regressing the way that Russia is. We have a greater opportunity to work in a cooperative way with China.”

Saying he does not contemplate “a return to the Cold War” or a military confrontation with either country, McCain said he hopes Bush will tell the Chinese leadership that “we understand, as the D*lai L*ma does, that T1b*t is part of China but we hope Tibetans are not repressed or oppressed.” McCain met recently with the D*lai L*ma in Colorado.

Bush has been under pressure from some Republicans and many Democrats to make public statements while in China aligning the United States with the cause of hum*n rights in both China and Tibet. He met with five Chinese dissidents in the White House last week, a step that Chinese authorities condemned, but he has resisted urgings that he boycott the opening ceremonies to show displeasure with the controversial actions of the government.

McCain applauded the president’s stance. “You don’t want to go over there and insult the Chinese,” he said. “It would not be good for our relations. I certainly don’t think the president would or should go over there and be confrontational. At the same time, I think the president can in a very diplomatic style make it clear what we stand for and believe in.”

What do you think?

14 responses to “China US Relations: Fair and Balanced.”

  1. Dan – this is an excellent article, and echoes very closely the analysis provided by the American sociologist Doug Guthrie, as outlined in his book, “China and Globalization”, published by Routledge in 2006. Along with Peerenboom’s “China Modernizes”, Guthrie’s book is the best I’ve read on the political, social and economic transformation of today’s China.
    This article by Howard French that you have linked to is well worth reading. Thanks for alerting me to it!

  2. Dan — great article. It’s certainly true that individual rights in China are ever expanding. Elimination of the hukou system and personal property rights are huge gains.
    It will be very interesting to watch the developments. I’ll confess a Libertarian-style view on government — evil necessity. In my conversations with Chinese friends and associates, I’ve found that even those that want faster political change view the government as something of a protector and provider — the source of individual rights, not merely the defender of them.

  3. “The relative flexibility the government has shown in allowing this to happen is more a matter of pragmatism than any overt ideological shift, a grudging concession to economic reality.”
    “A right is not effectual by itself, but only in relation to the obligation to which it corresponds, the effective exercise of a right springing not from the individual who possesses it, but from other men who consider themselves as being under a certain obligation towards him. Recognition of an obligation makes it effectual. An obligation which goes unrecognized by anybody loses none of the full force of its existence. A right which goes unrecognized by anybody is not worth very much.” (Simone Weil, “The Need for Roots”, p.3)

  4. Dan,
    Of course China is not where the US, Denmark and Canada are today. The question is, why should we expect China to be like the US, Denmark and Canada? Shouldn’t we allow countries to be different? Diversity is good, no? Does the west have a monopoly on everything from political system to values and development path etc. that ALL countries have to follow?
    A side note: Why did McCain single out Russia? Russia is at least nominally democratic. I don’t see how China is “better” than Russia as far as the US is concerned.

  5. Yes,China has a lot of improvements to make…
    China has already made MAJOR improvements,to the point where they are internationally accepted.
    The Olympics are China’s coming out party,and I can only hope that it is a SUCCESS. I hope the Da1i L*ama shows enough respect for China that he is allowed to return. That however is unnecessary.
    China would have far better luck with a figure head Emperor, who would bring in tourist money and
    allow the Chinese Royalty to intermarry their European counterparts, making China “European”!

  6. The ancient Greeks rightly equated Truth/Freedom with “space”. Truth/Freedom can only exist within a narrow space which must be continuously, zealously defended. The dimensions of this space consist of rights, critical thinking, courage, and ethics.
    The Chinese over the centuries have become very adept at creating their own narrow spaces working around weaknesses in the bureaucracy and manipulating corruption.
    But this Chinese space is “unofficial, unrecognized space”, and, as Simone Weil says,
    “[a] right which goes unrecognized by anybody is not worth very much.” (Simone Weil, “The Need for Roots”, p.3)

  7. It is helpful to keep in mind that while the U.S. only tortures aliens [as far as we know anyway], China reserves it for the domestic market, apparently.

  8. The problem with comparing the United States (or Denmark or Canada) to China is that it assumes that both countries are at the same time period in their history. Although it would be very convenient, countries are not always on the same location on the track when it comes to issues of “rights.” If there were a more powerful, developed, and free country around in the early 1800’s, they probably would have repeatedly berated the United States slavery policy on the grounds of hum*n r1ghts. What about the reign of Henry VIII? Were all citizens given fair “rights” as we would think of them today. Rights will take time to develop in China, just like they did, and are still doing in the West. The current Chinese situation, while certainly not on par with most Western countries, is in a much better state than it was a generation or two ago.

  9. Writing stuff like “t1b*t” very much undermines your case. If China was doing so well in political freedom you wouldn’t need to obscure certain controversial words.
    It is true China has made strides forward and has not regressed like Russia. But China remains a highly repressed place with shocking levels of corruption. Political reform has been at a standstill for over 10 years now.
    Freedom remains repressed, that is why you have to write t1b3t, and d1ss1dents, because it remains impossible to even discuss these things in China.
    This is not an argument for disengagement, but it is also an argument against the knee-jerk reaction away from the virulent “Western press” that your blog’s line seems to have recently taken.
    Sometimes the “Western press” is right. The pollution really is terrible in Beijing. D1ss1dents are really being arrested in China. The whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima remains unknown.

  10. The breakdown of the WTO talks had little to do with China. It was in essense an impasse between America and India.
    Funny how the press generally spun that one the way they did in the hope of getting some mud to stick. Fact is that tariffs in China are low, possibly the lowest amongst developing countries.
    Why did China side with India at the WTO? Food security.
    Speaking of human r1ghts, how can a country be expected to provide a comfortable lifestyle for people who are in detention when hundreds of millions in rural areas still live on less than $1 per day and under threat of famine.

  11. AH,
    “Writing stuff like ‘t1b*t'” does not undermine my case, it merely shows how far China still has to go. I have never said China was “doing so well in political freedom.” I have said that it has to be viewed in the context of its own history and of history in general, and by how it is improving. Big difference.
    As for my alleged “knee-jerk reaction away from the virulent ‘Western press,'” please understand that is based on my belief that the bulk of the daily newspapers in the United States suck generally, not just on China. Take my hometown, for instance. I recently posited how I wished either the Seattle PI or the Seattle Times would shut down so those two papers could merge into one good one. The person with whom I was speaking convinced me, however, that they would only merge into one mediocre one. It’s bad here. I knew we had reached the absolute low point the other day when the Seattle Times did an editorial on how sticking sharp objects in a local lake “was not Seattle.” Wow, that’s really going out on a limb. So please do not mistake my constant attacks on the media as meaning a constant attack on those who attack China as there are plenty of so-called China bashers whom I highly respect.

    What if Neo Cons who directed the USA’s attack on Iraq were to take over in China? Well, latest issue of The New Yorker magazine suggests that this is indeed happening. From communism to Dengist capitalism, to Neo Con-style fascist imperialism, without any democratic interlude on horizon! Is China destined to become new imperialist hegemon? The writer Evan Osnos claims to have discovered signs that this may happen. A strange mixture of Confucian authoritarianism, Han Chinese chauvinism and Straussian fascism seems to be gaining favour among well educated Chinese youth who are passionate capitalists in daily life. Trends like this would not have bothered anyone if China was size of New Zealand and sparsely populated, had no nuclear missiles, did not have any trade surplus with USA or held the largest volume of US dollars. This is a brilliant piece which ought to be read by Westerners who imagine that free trade will bring about capitalism in China

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