Sunday, July 29, 2007

Stealing from the starving

In a years time, Peking will be hosting the Olympic Games. Meanwhile, the Chinese government is putting up money to buy a stake in Barclay’s Bank and there are billions of more dollars available for China to buy up huge swathes of British industries, businesses and real estate. We’re importing anything and everything made in China – from cheap plastic toys to heavy machinery.

And yet, in China, they still sell crippled children into slavery where they are forced to beg on the streets by their unscrupulous owners.

That’s just one of the many, many things which are unacceptable about China – a lousy record on human rights, insufficient basic facilities for the rural poor, restrictions on foreign currency and activity in China and yet we are happy to take their money and for them to buy MG Rover or Barclay’s Bank?

I think this is wrong. It’s the responsibility of any decent nation to demand that countries we deal with behave in certain ways and, at least, try to achieve and maintain certain standards for their people.

For instance, why, when there are millions of their people barely living at subsistence level in the rural provinces of China, are we accepting huge amounts of money which they ought to be spending to improve the lives of their people?

The Chinese government have “modernised” in a way that David Cameron can only dream of. Gone are the old communist stalwarts in their cheap grey suits, huge glasses and the slogans of Mao, Marx and Stalin. In their place is a new breed of urbane, expensively dressed and eloquent “internationalist” politicians who talk the talk of the liberal progressive – but still walk the walk of communism.

China is a communist state hiding behind the façade of liberal capitalism – but capitalism is not a political doctrine, merely an economic method which can be applied equally adroitly by a fascist, communist or democratic nation. The government of China remains as oppressive, illiberal and unpleasant as it has been for sixty years.

China’s success over the last two decades has been brought about largely as a result of the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989 when they were seen to ruthlessly crush a pro-democracy rally by Chinese students. Nobody is certain how many died when the tanks rolled in and in the ensuing months – the toll ranges from a couple of hundred to several thousand – but the response of the world was to demand reform.

Reform was what they got, but it was only skin deep. The communists maintained, possibly even strengthened their grip on political power, but changed the way they presented itself to the outside of world – and most of the world swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

They swallowed it because they wanted to believe that things had really changed. They wanted to believe it because they wanted to believe that “soft power” had worked and that the tough stance the west – led by Reagan and Thatcher – against the Soviet Union was not the only way to force oppressive regimes to change.

It hasn’t worked. Most of the “liberalisation” was already underway before Tiananmen Square – the reason the students were demonstrating was that they wanted to force the pace of change and for it to be more than just economic reform – and was a response to the Reagan/Thatcher stance with the USSR. The communist leaders of China were keen to hang on to their power which they had watched slip away from their political contemporaries in the USSR and had already embarked on the process of creating a façade of liberalism long before “soft power” got involved.

But the western nations – particularly those of the EU – were keen to prove that their more “nuanced” approach had worked. So we opened up markets for the Chinese and sold our technology to them – believing, rather stupidly, that the west’s technological advantage would always keep them ahead of China economically and believing, or rather, wanting to believe that things had changed in China.

China’s leaders, whatever else they are, are not naïve. They recognised the opportunity that the west had presented to them and they grabbed it with both hands. The new breed of Chinese politician was presented to the west and the west fell for the shiny new look. China was given the Olympic Games as a reward for their “liberalisation” and, in typical communist fashion, they threw themselves into preparing for it with fervour – a fervour that showed little consideration for the ordinary Chinese who were forced from their homes, shoved out of view and punished if they dared to complain.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds the idea of the Chinese government spending billions of dollars buying up British, and indeed western, businesses when they really ought to be using that money to relieve the abject poverty – real poverty – that exists throughout China in the rural heartlands, which is why we should shun their advances and tell them, in no uncertain terms, where to put their money.

As an analogy, it is rather like a wealthy businessman taking money from charity instead of it going to the needy poor. It is, literally, stealing from the starving. It makes sense to reject these overtures from a moral perspective, but it also makes sense from an economic perspective. We should not allow China rights and freedoms to our markets that they deny us to theirs and we should demand that they liberalise not just their economy, but their politics as well.

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