Chinese whispers

by Pamela Stirling / 30 June, 2007

It's tempting, after all the kowtowing to China at Parliament over the visit of the Dalai Lama this week, simply to post to the Beehive a copy of the China Daily's review this year of American journalist James Mann's influential new book, The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression.

It's not that Helen Clark and her colleagues would find anything critical in the review regarding politicians who put trade concerns above human rights. But that's just the point. The Chinese columnist is not permitted to discuss the book's content.

So much for the theory that engagement with China over trade would soften Beijing's censorious and authoritarian rule. The confidence in such a policy was once so strong that Bill Clinton in the early 1990s demanded improvements in human rights or he would revoke most favoured nation trading status. The deadline arrived - but it wasn't China that backed down.

Disturbingly, that pattern is strengthening. Just two years ago Helen Clark, to her great credit, stood up for her country's democratic principles when protesters unfurled the flag of the Free Tibet movement on Parliament's forecourt while she was hosting China's third-ranking leader, Wu Bangguo.

The Prime Minister told the objecting Chinese that suppressing peaceful protest was not part of New Zealand's political system - and the Chinese delegation entered Parliament through a side door.

This week, however, it was Clark who appeared to be mollifying China. Her contrived meeting with the Dalai Lama in a Brisbane departure lounge - surely an act of acquiescence to Beijing - is almost as objectionable as the recent actions of countries like Belgium in withdrawing invitations for the Tibetan leader to visit.

The pressures will only get worse. Exporters around the world are drooling over China's 10 percent growth rate and billion-plus consumers, and increased trade will only intensify demands to smooth the relationship. For a number of important food products, China is already virtually the only source in the world. It controls 80 percent of the world's production of ascorbic acid, a valuable preservative. It's the same now with wheat gluten.

China watchers warn that the West, convinced that free-market capitalism and democracy go hand in hand, has instead welcomed a "Trojan horse" into the international system. It's not just that Beijing offers an enticing model to the developing world of how to get rich without embracing either democracy or bothersome ideals like labour laws. The problem is also its support of Iran and North Korea and the fact that it buddies up to most murderous dictatorships, including those of Sudan and Zimbabwe. Clark might rage about the "absolutely disgraceful" behaviour of the regime in Fiji. But China, spreading its influence in the Pacific, has no compunction in aiding rogue regimes. And all this is before the economy has really powered up.

Yet, just because China is not following the pattern of South Korea does not mean it will never embrace openness and the rule of law. India offers an example of powerful growth under a democratic government. As, indeed, does Taiwan - which a pragmatic China has no compunction in trading with and accepting many millions in investments from. China might fear introducing the freedoms and transparency that preceded the break-up of the Soviet Union, but it may eventually have little choice.

The greatest threat to China is the hundreds of millions of impoverished rural dwellers: more than 150 million survive on a dollar a day; four million took part in the 87,000 protests recorded last year. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao took the extraordinary step this month of visiting a farming community to allay social unrest over rising pork prices.

For the leadership to legitimise itself in the absence of any satisfying ideology, it must continue to provide economic success for all its people - and for that it needs trade, with partners who can provide a positive international image. Nations like Sudan do not provide that. (There is a movement building to rebrand the 2008 Olympics the "Genocide Olympics" because of China's support for Sudan.) New Zealand's principles could, right now, prove our greatest asset. But only if we are prepared to stand up for them. n

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance of Len Lye
85816 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Arts

Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance …

by Sally Blundell

New essays on New Zealand-born US artist Len Lye elevate him to the status of Australasia’s most notable 20th-century artist.

Read more
Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infertile couples
86046 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Health

Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infe…

by Nicky Pellegrino

For about a third of infertility cases in New Zealand, there is no obvious reason why seemingly fertile couples struggle to conceive.

Read more
Farewells on the Auckland wharves, captured by photographer John Rykenberg
85964 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Farewells on the Auckland wharves, captured by pho…

by Frances Walsh

More than one million images from Rykenberg Photography, taken around Auckland, are now in the Auckland Libraries Collection. But who are the people?

Read more
'Termite hell' for Golden Bay man after he woke covered in insects
86027 2018-01-18 11:59:55Z Environment

'Termite hell' for Golden Bay man after he woke co…

by Hamish Cardwell

A Golden Bay man spending his first night in his new house says he woke to find his bed, walls and floor covered in hundreds of creepy crawlies.

Read more
Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want to save the oceans
86015 2018-01-18 11:18:49Z Environment

Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want t…

by Sharon George and Deirdre McKay

There's a growing movement to stop the amount of wasteful plastic that goes into our oceans, but what about the tiny bits we can hardly see?

Read more
It's time to chlorinate New Zealand's drinking water
86001 2018-01-18 09:41:15Z Social issues

It's time to chlorinate New Zealand's drinking wat…

by The Listener

The inconvenience to chlorine refuseniks is tiny compared with the risk of more suffering and tragedy from another Havelock North-style contamination.

Read more
Climate change: New study finds worst case scenario might not be as bad
85994 2018-01-18 08:27:48Z Environment

Climate change: New study finds worst case scenari…

by Charlie Dreaver

Global warming's worst case scenario may not be as bad as previously thought, a new climate change study says.

Read more
The science of sibling rivalries
85949 2018-01-18 00:00:00Z Science

The science of sibling rivalries

by Sally Blundell

Who was the favourite? Who got the most? Sibling relationships set up patterns that last a lifetime.

Read more