Greetings fellow STANDers! This is Michael Smith. After a very hectic first several weeks of summer, things are settling down somewhat, providing much needed time to reflect. I thought for my first post, I’d briefly look at the elephant in the room: the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
China’s own human rights record is abysmal: no other nation on Earth executes more of its citizens every year (over 3000, though the Chinese government does not keep precise statistics). China’s record with minorities is comtemptible. While China has more than 100 registered ethnicities, over 90% of China’s population is of the Han ethnic group. Much of what is percieved of by the West as Chinese nationalism when it is manifested on a world stage is more clearly seen in an internal context as Han chauvinism. During China’s long 4000-year history, it has contracted and expanded many times, at various points exercising control over non-Han areas such as Tibet, Xinjiang (East Turkestan), Inner Mongolia and Manchuria. In order to solidify the control of the Beijing government over these areas, the government has over the last half-century imported hundreds of thousands of Han families into these areas to change their demographic balance and tie them more closely to China. Any expressions of non-Han ethnic or cultural pride can be capital offenses and are labeled by the Chinese government as “splittism” or violent separatism. The Chinese military and government will tolerate only one supreme authority with absolute power over all the lands they claim, and even demands for autonomy are repressed as harshly as armed insurrections, as was seen in the Tibet crackdown back in March.
In many ways, Han chauvinism has become the ruling ideology of China, with the discrediting of communism. But Han chauvinism is primarily, if not exclusively, a problem for those non-Han minorities unfortunate enough to reside within the borders of the PRC. The guiding principle of the PRC’s foreign policy is resource-acquisition.
The horrors of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution in which millions died in an attempt to implement communist principles chastened the generation of leaders who came after Mao. Beginning with Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, Chinese leaders began a transition to a market based economy. The highest virtue under socialism, that of sacrifice for the common good and the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor, was abandoned in favor of Deng’s maxim: “To get rich is glorious!” While China today is far from a free market economy, it is also far from its Marxist roots. Where once China’s foreign policy was guided largely by ideology, with China supporting Maoist movements around the world, today its foreign policy is devoid of any principle except Deng’s: to gloriously enrich the state and the state-owned monopolies.
And there lies the crux of the problem: China’s foreign policy is unusually amoral, with the regime having no compunctions about working with the most repressive rulers on Earth to secure ever larger amounts of mineral resources to fuel the Chinese economic modernization and the improvement in living standards of many ordinary Chinese. It is through this lens that we must view Darfur, where the Sudanese government is propped up and shielded from international pressure by Chinese oil contracts. The same holds true for Zimbabwe, where the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe is able to immiserate his subjects, beat and intimidate opposition supporters, rig elections, and convert the breadbasket of Africa into a desert–all with the complete support of the Chinese government which has invested heavily in Zimbabwe’s industries and has sold millions of dollars of military hardware to Mugabe’s regime. Tacit Chinese support for the repressive junta in Burma (styled by that illegitimate clique as “Myanmar”) has kept the regime in power as it continues to repress its citizens, persecute Buddhist monks and pro-democracy activists in the wake of last August’s protests, compel more than 800,000 Burmese into forced labor, and ethnically-cleanse non-Burmese in the country’s mountainous north, not to mention refusing to let international aid workers in to help the hundreds of thousands affected by Cyclone Nargis. A number of other autocratic regimes from Equatorial Guinea to North Korea are also kept in power by the Chinese government.
These are all spokes on a giant wheel: and at the center of it all sits Beijing. This is not an argument for isolating or demonizing China; such a strategy would be a catastrophic and counterproductive folly. Instead, we must see that China is the indispensable actor. We CAN end the genocide in Darfur, and force repressive governments to respect human rights in Burma, Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea and other nations–but only if we keep the pressure on China.
Beijing has already shown that it is keenly susceptible to international pressure: in response to international pressure, Chinese President Hu Jintao pointedly avoided Zimbabwe on a trip to Southern Africa in February 2007 in which he visited most of Zimbabwe’s neighbors. This underscores the importance of our divestment drives, which could force a change in the policy of the Chinese government if and only if the costs, both in both money and bad-publicity, of doing business as usual with Khartoum are higher than the benefits to Beijing. The upcoming Summer Olympics in Beijing in August will present an unparalleled opportunity for human rights activists to put Beijing’s relationships with odious regimes front and center. This is a topic to which I will return later, but I think it’s important to step back occasionally from the narrow focus on Sudan and Darfur and look at the broader international context. By pressuring the PRC on Darfur, we may be able to improve human rights in Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, and many other nations as well.
For the Voiceless,