What to do about China

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Our fearless leaders don't seem to have noticed that, in human rights terms, China is a rogue state. The mass murders twelve years ago in Tienamen Square were not just an embarrassing accident, to be ignored; they were the culmination of a concerted attempt to destroy the democracy movement in the country.

China is the largest, most powerful country in the world with a terrible human rights record, and any international campaign that (for example) concentrates on the Sudan while ignoring China is being conducted with blinders on. Opponents of the regime, such as the Falun Gong adherents, are not only being jailed extrajudicially every day---that means in disregard of China's own laws-- but many of them are being beaten to death in prison. China's death penalty is also a terrible scandal--prisoners are put to death for crimes that would not necessarily even be felonies here, such as tax evasion--and, worse, is being conducted as a business: prisoner's organs are frequently sold before they are executed, for transplant elsewhere. The condemned are killed with a bullet to the head if the heart or other organs are needed, but are shot in the heart if the corneas are needed. These convicts are being processed like cattle; they are killed to be sold. Recently, with minimal protest from the United States, China has begun arresting ethnic Chinese who are American citizens or permanent residents, holding several professors and businessmen for reasons that are extremely unclear.

China's exploitation of the defenseless for dangerous labor is also unacceptable by any standard. In the past few months, young children were blown up in a school which doubled as a fireworks factory, and convicts died performing forced labor in a coal mine which collapsed.

China's tightening controls on the Internet have also resulted in the jailing of young entrepreneurs. Most recently, a man who posted his father's essays on the web was taken into custody. The father is a hard-liner whose essays on China's failure to fulfill the promises of Maoism have long been tolerated in print.

Over the last two years, an anti-Catholic campiagn has ncluded the demolition of churches.

During the Clinton/Gore administration, the funneling of illegal Chinese contributions, some traceable directly to the People's Republic, to both men was one of the many scandals of the administration--and provided a very likely explanation as to the reason the Clinton administration didn't take a more aggressive stand on Chinese human rights. What is President Bush's excuse?

The Republican party, as is true on many other issues, seems to be divided into two camps. There are those who want to "contain" China, and those who want to "engage" it. While the "containment" crowd are old line hawks who are less concerned about Chinese human rights than they are about China's lingering status as an ideological (Communist) enemy, the "engagement" crowd has dollar signs in their eyes at the prospect of selling Coke, Madonna and Old Navy clothing to one billion additional humans.

Those in favor of engaging China have a particularly insidious cover story which they use as their justification: it is the old idea that capitalism causes democracy, that by making the Chinese want to drink Snapple or dance to Destiny's Child we will also make them want fair elections, freedom of speech and judicial due process.

It is true that capitalism, as a sort of carrier, can be used to sneak democratic ideas into cultures hostile to both. However, democracy and capitalism are not co-extensive, and in fact, they eventually clash, like a bull and a lion harnessed to a carriage. Some very democratic cultures are hostile to commerce (like Salvador Allende's Chile), while some very murderous societies are capitalism-friendly (like Auguste Pinochet's Chile). If a dictatorship is run by, or on behalf of, businessmen, then the middle and upper classes can have all the soda, hiphop and luxury goods they want, without however imbibing any democracy along with it. The right treatment for China is to confront it on its execrable human rights record, not to reward it with the Olympics.