Dangerous Liasons - China, pt.I
Source Steve Zeltzer
Date 00/06/02/01:42

This could be one of the discussion articles for the LN news articles for discussion on the WTO.
Steve Z

---------------- Begin Forwarded Message ----------------
Date: 06/01 1:53 PM
From: Sid Shniad,

Dangerous Liaisons

by Waldon Bello and Anuradha Mittal

Progressives, the Right, and the Anti-China Trade Campaign

Like the United States, China is a country that is full of contradictions. It
is certainly not a country that can be summed up as "a rogue nation that
decorates itself with human rights abuses as if they were medals of
honor."1 This characterization by AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney joins
environmentalist Lester Brown's Cassandra-like warnings about the
Chinese people in hitting a new low in the rhetoric of the Yellow Peril
tradition in American populist politics. Brown accuses the Chinese of
being the biggest threat to the world's food supply because they are
climbing up the food chain by becoming meat-eaters.2

These claims are disconcerting. At other times, we may choose not to
engage their proponents. But not today, when they are being bandied
about with studied irresponsibility to reshape the future of relations
between the world's most populous nation and the world's most powerful

A coalition of forces seeks to deprive China of permanent normal trading
relations (PNTR) as a means of obstructing that country's entry into the
World Trade Organization (WTO). We do not approve of the free-trade
paradigm that underpins NTR status. We do not support the WTO; we
believe, in fact, that it would be a mistake for China to join it. But the
issue in the China debate is not the desirability or undesirability of free
trade and the WTO. The real issue is whether the United States has the
right to serve as the gatekeeper to international organizations such as
the WTO. More broadly, it is whether the United States government can
arrogate to itself the right to determine who is and who is not a legitimate
member of the international community. The issue is unilateralism--the
destabilizing thrust that is Washington's oldest approach to the rest of
the world.

The unilateralist anti-China trade campaign enmeshes many progressive
groups in the US in an unholy alliance with the right wing that, among
other things, advances the Pentagon's grand strategy to contain China.
It splits a progressive movement that was in the process of coming
together in its most solid alliance in years. It is, to borrow Omar Bradley's
characterization of the Korean War, "the wrong war at the wrong place at
the wrong time."

The Real China

To justify US unilateralism vis--vis China, opponents of NTR for China
have constructed an image of China that could easily have come out of
the pen of Joseph McCarthy.

But what really is China? Since the anti-China lobby has done such a
good job telling us about China's bad side, it might be appropriate to
begin by showing the other side.

Many in the developing world admire China for being one of the world's
most dynamic economies, growing between 7-10 per cent a year over
the past decade. Its ability to push a majority of the population living in
abject poverty during the Civil War period in the late forties into decent
living conditions in five decades is no mean achievement. That economic
dynamism cannot be separated from an event that most countries in the
global South missed out on: a social revolution in the late forties and
early fifties that eliminated the worst inequalities in the distribution of
land and income and prepared the country for economic takeoff when
market reforms were introduced into the agricultural sector in the late
1970's. China likewise underlines a reality that many in the North, who
are used to living under powerful states that push the rest of the world
around, fail to appreciate: this is the critical contribution of a liberation
movement that decisively wrests control of the national economy from
foreign interests. China is a strong state, born in revolution and steeled
in several decades of wars hot and cold. Its history of state formation
accounts for the difference between China and other countries of the
South, like Thailand, Brazil, Nigeria, and South Korea. In this it is similar
to that other country forged in revolution, Vietnam.

Foreign investors can force many other governments to dilute their
investment rules to accommodate them. That is something they find
difficult to do in China and Vietnam, which are prepared to impose a
thousand and one restrictions to make sure that foreign capital indeed
contributes to development, from creating jobs to actually transferring

The Pentagon can get its way in the Philippines, Korea, and even Japan.
These are, in many ways, vassal states. In contrast, it is very careful
when it comes to dealing with China and Vietnam, both of whom taught
the US that bullying doesn't pay during the Korean War and the Vietnam
War, respectively.

Respect is what China and Vietnam gets from transnationals and
Northern governments. Respect is what most of our governments in the
global South don't get. When it comes to pursuing national interests,
what separates China and Vietnam from most of our countries are
successful revolutionary nationalist movements that got institutionalized
into no-nonsense states.

What is the "Case" against China?

Of course, China has problems when it comes to issues such as its
development model, the environment, workers rights, human rights and
democracy. But here the record is much more complex than the picture
painted by many US NGO's.

- The model of development of outward-oriented growth built on exports
to developed country markets of labor-intensive products is no scheme
to destroy organized labor thought up by an evil regime. This is the
model that has been prescribed for over two decades by the World Bank
and other Western-dominated development institutions for the
developing countries. When China joined the World Bank in the early
eighties, this was the path to development recommended by the officials
and experts of that institution.

Through the strategic manipulation of aid, loans, and the granting of the
stamp of approval for entry into world capital markets, the Bank pushed
export-oriented, labor-intensive manufacturing and discouraged
countries from following domestic-market-oriented growth based on
rising wages and incomes. In this connection, it must be pointed out that
World Bank policies vis-a-vis China and the Third World were simply
extensions of policies in the US, Britain, and other countries in the North,
where the Keynesian or Social Democratic path based on rising wages
and incomes was foreclosed by the anti-labor, pro-capitalist neoliberal
policies of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and their ideological

- True, development in China has been accompanied by much
environmental destruction and must be criticized. But what many
American environmentalists forget is that the model of double-digit GDP
growth based on resource-intensive, waste-intensive, toxic-intensive
production and unrestrained levels of consumption is one that China and
other developing countries have been enouraged to copy from the North,
where it continues to be the dominant paradigm. Again, the World Bank
and the whole Western neoclassical economics establishment, which
has equated development with unchecked levels of consumption, must
bear a central part of the blame.

Northern environmentalists love to portray China as representing the
biggest future threat to the global environment. They assume that China
will simply emulate the unrestrained consumer-is-king model of the US
and the North. What they forget to mention is that per capita
consumption in China is currently just one tenth of that of developed
countries.3 What they decline to point out is that the US, with five per
cent of the world's population, is currently the biggest single source of
global climate change, accounting as it does for a quarter of global
greenhouse gas emissions. As the Center for Science and Environment
(CSE) points out, the carbon emission level of one US citizen in 1996
was equal to that of 19 Indians, 30 Pakistanis, 17 Maldivians, 49 Sri
Lankans, 107 Bangladeshis, 134 Bhutanese, or 269 Nepalis.4

When it comes to food consumption, Lester Brown's picture of Chinese
meat eaters and milk consumers destabilizing food supply is simply
ethnocentric, racist, and wrong. According to FAO data, China's
consumption of meat in 1992-94 was 33 kg per capita and this is
expected to rise to 60 kg per capita in 2020. In contrast, the comparable
figures for developed countries was 76 kg per capita in 1992-94, rising to
83 kg in 2020. When it comes to milk, China's consumption was 7 kg per
capita in 1992-94, rising marginally to 12 kg in 2020. Per capita
consumption in developed countries, in contrast was 195 kg and
declining only marginally to 189 kg in 2020.5

The message of these two sets of figures is unambiguous: the
unchecked consumption levels in the United States and other Northern
countries continue to be the main destabilizer of the global environment.

- True, China is no workers' paradise. Yet it is simplistic to say that
workers have no rights, or that the government has, in the manner of a
pimp, delivered its workers to transnationals to exploit. There are unions;
indeed, China has the biggest trade union confederation in the world,
with 100 million members. Granted, this confederation is closely linked
with the government. But this is also the case in Malaysia, Singapore,
Mexico, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and many other countries. The
Chinese trade unions are not independent from government, but they
ensure that workers' demands and concerns are not ignored by
government. If the Chinese government were anti-worker, as AFL-CIO
propaganda would have it, it would have dramatically reduced its state
enterprise sector by now. It is precisely concern about the future of the
hundreds of millions of workers in state enterprises that has made the
government resist the prescription to radically dismantle the state
enterprise sector coming from Chinese neoliberal economists, foreign
investors, the business press, and the US government--all of whom are
guided by a narrow efficiency/profitability criterion, and are completely
insensitive to the sensitivity to employment issues of the government.

The fact is that workers in China probably have greater protection and
access to government than industrial workers who live in right-to-work
states (where non-union shops are encouraged by law) in the United
States. If there is a government that must be targeted by the AFL-CIO
for being anti-labor, it must be its own government, which, in collusion
with business, has stripped labor of so many of its traditional legal
protections and rights that the proportion of US workers unionized is
down to only 13 per cent of the work force!

- True, there is much to be done in terms of bringing genuine democracy
and greater respect for human rights in China. And certainly, actions like
the Tienanmen massacre and the repression of political dissidents must
be condemned, in much the same way that Amnesty International
severely criticizes the United States for relying on mass incarceration as
a principal mechanism of social control.6 But this is not a repressive
regime devoid of legitimacy like the Burmese military junta.

As in the United States and other countries, there is a lot of grumbling
about government, but this cannot be said to indicate lack of legitimacy
on the part of the government. Again and again, foreign observers in
China note that while there might be disaffection, there is widespread
acceptance of the legitimacy of the government.

Monopolization of decision making by the Communist Party at the
regional and national level is still the case, but relatively free elections
now take place in many of the country's rural villages in an effort to
deconcentrate power from Beijing to better deal with rural economic
problems, according to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman,
who is otherwise quite critical of the Chinese leadership.7

Indeed, lack of Western-style multiparty systems and periodic
competitive elections does not mean that the government is not
responsive to people. The Communist Party is all too aware of the fact
that its continuing in power is dependent on popular legitimacy. This
legitimacy in turn depends on convincing the masses that it is doing an
adequate job its fulfilling four goals: safeguarding national sovereignty,
avoiding political instability, raising people's standard of living, and
maintaining the rough tradition of equality inherited from the period of
classical socialism. The drama of recent Chinese history has been the
way the party has tried to stay in power by balancing these four
concerns of the population. This balancing act has been achieved, Asia
expert Chalmers Johnson writes, via an "ideological shift from an all-
embracing communism to an all-embracing nationalism [that has] helped
to hold Chinese society together, giving it a certain intellectual and
emotional energy and stability under the intense pressures of economic

- As for demand for democratic participation, this is certainly growing and
should be strongly supported by people outside China. But it is wishful
thinking to claim that US-style forms of democratic expression have
become the overwhelming demand of the population. While one might
not agree with all the points he makes, a more accurate portrayal of the
state of things than that given by the anti-China lobby is provided by the
English political philosopher John Gray in his classic work False Dawn:

China's current regime is undoubtedly transitional, but rather than
moving towards "democratic capitalism," it is evolving from the
western, Soviet institutions of the past into a modern state more
suited to Chinese traditions, needs, and circumstances.

Liberal democracy is not on the historical agenda for China. It is very
doubtful if the one-child policy, which even at present is often
circumvented, could survive a transition to liberal democracy. Yet, as
China's present rulers rightly believe, an effective population policy is
indispensable if scarcity of resources is not to lead to ecological
catastrophe and political crisis.

Popular memories of the collapse of the state and national
defenselessness between the world wars are such that any
experiment with political liberalization which appears to carry the risk
of near-anarchy of post-Soviet Russia will be regarded with suspicion
or horror by the majority of Chinese. Few view the break-up of the
state other than a supreme evil. The present regime has a potent
source of popular legitimacy in the fact that so far it has staved off
that disaster.9

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