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So why do we have “free trade” with China?

From CNET:

A report from the newspaper yesterday detailed how relatives of Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao have grown extraordinarily wealthy during his time in China’s ruling elite. The NYT reported that his family has “controlled assets” valued at $2.7 billion. His wealth stands in stark contrast to the poverty that afflicts large numbers of people in China, and was built in some cases, with financial backing from state-owned companies.

In response, China has blocked the newspaper’s site in both English and Chinese for mentioning his family’s wealth. Users that cited the Times article on Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like microblogging service in China, have also seen their postings removed.

As I have noted elsewhere, from a human rights standpoint it’s not clear that China is all that different than the “red menace” that we grew up with. While Russia has embraced some semblance of democracy and free speech (albeit now dying a slow death), the same cannot be said of China.

So why isn’t China the “red menace” anymore? Moreover, given that it still subscribes to the practices that made us label it such, why are we continuing to prescribe to “free trade” with them (to the detriment of our workers may I add)?

The answers are I believe:

  1. Because it behooves our ruling class.
  2. Because it never was about human rights: it was about capitalism. Human rights was a ruse.

Alternatively the nouveux left ascribes to the belief that it will lift China out of poverty and with economic prosperity, political reforms will ensue.

The later point has some validity, albeit it’s not an open conversation that has been had with the vast majority of Americans on who’s backs such gained Chinese prosperity has been laid (that is, their gain, has been our loss). I’m fine with an informed decision on that grounds, but as a hidden subtext, not so.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think China is “evil” per se (this is particularly true of their “people” – leadership is perhaps another thing). Certainly they have some evil-ish policies and one can’t ignore their human rights record. That said in the spirit of the “Prime Directive“, who am I to question what works for a billion people with a completely different culture than mine? They are in fact feeding their people, something which wasn’t happening when the west was heavily interfering.

Still, we can’t disregard the inhumane treatment that dissidents and others receive. That should make us at least question this devil’s deal we’ve made. This is a conversation to be had on the front steps, not the back rooms that most of these trade deals have been effectively consummated in.

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