The Chinese Model?

If you think that lowering the embargo and trading with Cuba will help bring about democracy and human rights you may want to read this editorial from the Wall Street Journal. It demonstrates how despite its explosive economic growth how China is still a barbaric country that doesn’t respect human rights.

China’s Great Leap Backward
In most countries, a blind social activist who taught himself law to fight for the rights of the disabled and other victims of abuse would be a hero. In China, Chen Guangcheng’s reward for doing this is prison.

After courageously exposing forced abortions and sterilizations that even the government agrees are against the law, he was sentenced Thursday to four years and three months on trumped up charges of “gathering a crowd to disrupt traffic” and damaging $680 of government property. Three lawyers who sought to defend the blind activist were detained by local police in the northeast Chinese province of Shandong and accused of stealing a wallet. The judge then announced that Mr. Chen’s silence during the “trial” amounted to an admission of guilt.

Despite China’s impressive progress in the economic arena and its repeated claims to be building a fairer legal system, the law is taking a great leap backward.

On Friday, Chinese journalist Zhao Yan was sentenced to three years in jail on dubious charges of fraud. A researcher for the Beijing bureau of the New York Times, Mr. Zhao was detained two years ago on charges of “leaking state secrets” after a story in the Times revealed that former President Jiang Zemin was about to step down as China’s military chief. The Times has repeatedly denied that Mr. Zhao was involved in this story, and prosecutors didn’t produce evidence that the report fit even China’s elastic definition of state secrets. After President Bush twice raised the Times researcher’s case with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Beijing had to be a bit more careful. So it let the state-secrets charges fail and dug up an unrelated five-year-old fraud charge to avoid setting Mr. Zhao free.

Meanwhile Ching Cheong, Hong Kong correspondent for Singapore’s Straits Times, is waiting to hear his fate after a secret trial two weeks ago, again on charges of leaking state secrets. He was detained last year while trying to collect a manuscript containing interviews with the late reformist leader Zhao Ziyang, who sided with the student demonstrators in the 1989 Tiananmen protests.

Mr. Chen’s case is the most tragic of all. He was guilty of doing no more than what Beijing has repeatedly urged disgruntled citizens: Use the country’s embryonic legal system to tackle abuses by local cadres. After years of helping disabled people win cases against local government agencies, Mr. Chen last year brought a lawsuit on behalf of the victims of sterilizations and forced abortions inflicted by population-control officials in Shandong’s Linyi City. Though China still has a one-child policy, both practices are now officially illegal. Some officials in Linyi responsible for forced sterilizations and abortions were sacked after Mr. Chen’s lawsuit prompted an investigation by Beijing.

None of this was enough to save him when local officials took revenge. He was detained, beaten and ultimately imprisoned. Beijing police looked the other way as Mr. Chen was abducted from under their noses by Shandong officials. That fits a recent pattern in which the Chinese leadership has repeatedly sided with corrupt local officials against their accusers. Beijing’s actions in cases such as these undermine China’s claims that it is committed to the rule of law.

11 thoughts on “The Chinese Model?”

  1. Another thing to remember about China is that MAO killed more in China than Japan did during Its brutal occupation…. and it’s his disciples that still run China …. And businesses that relay on such a gov’t risk losing everything …….

  2. Corporate interests will always supercede human rights. Just about everything sold in stores today is “made in China.” Corporations in the U.S. (and in other countries) use “cheap” Chinese labor to turn “big” profits, so they don’t want the government to “rock the boat.”

    That is why U.S. corporations have been lobbying in Congress for years for the end of the embargo. They want the “Chinese model” for Cuba. Remember, for these large corporations “lo que importa es el cash.”

  3. Firefly,

    I’m a free market advocate. I don’t have a problem with companies manufacturing in underdeveloped countries. The alternative is more expensive goods for us and a lot more jobless people in these countries. The point of the post is that economic engagement and progress does not automatically equal social progress. The US can not credibly threaten economic withdrawal from China today because we are “all in” and therefore have no leverage. With Cuba we are pretty much out. We can use the carrot to encourage change. But fc has to be out of the picture for this to happen because he doesn’t want real economic or political change.

  4. I think firefly hit it right on the money (pun intended). If Wal-Mart were a country they would be the 4th largest trading country for China. I am a free market guy too, but free markets are supposed to flow both ways and they don’t.
    We may as well lift the embargo as it won’t bring about change and nothing else other than an uprising in Cuba (which is inconceivable due to their position)will bring a change. Relatives are dying and paying the price which no one else is paying.
    Should there be a change in Cuba the corporate vultures would circle for their piece of the pie.
    Its not about freedom or dignity. I personally have a problem with buying products from slave labor no matter how much it benefits me. That is the very reason US corporations trade with Cuba. Its the money and NOTHING else. The only ones who care about a truely free Cuba are Cubans. We may as well save ourselves the heartache of waiting for help from the exterior. The Miami Herald article this AM said it best. A transition in power and NOTHING is different. After Raul then comes whoever. Without a change within nothing will change and that change seems very unlikely now.

  5. Pototo,

    I couldn’t disagree with you more. First of Wal-Mart takes a lot of the blame for everything but if Wal-Mart didn’t exist it wouldn’t be long before another company came along and took its place. Secondly freezing 1.3 billion chinese out of the world economy won’t help them and it won’t help us. Yes there is huge trade imbalance right now, but that can’t last forever. There will be a lot of negative consequences for China if that persists.

    In Cuba right now there is not even the possibility of the Chinese model because fidel won’t stand for it. I think removing the embargo now, as limited as it is, would be a colossal mistake. We reward the regime before we get them to make the first concession.

    Nope, not buying it.

  6. Conductor,
    we obviously won’t agree on this but lets at least evaluate the following:
    1. We will never get out of the China imbalance as its a runaway train. We are stuck. China needs our market and we need their slave labor.
    2. Cuba has NO NEED to make any concessions to us. We are a non-issue economically now that Venezuela, Iran, and yes China are their benefactors.
    3. Everyone argues that Cuba can’t blame the embargo (which I agree), but then why would lifting the embargo help Cuba if having it doesn’t hurt Cuba?
    4. Your comment of not wanting to economically freeze out 1.3 Billion Chinese because it won’t help them and only hurt us is the same argument some of those anti-embargo guys use. Thus the OFAC exceptions for US companies.
    I am totally anti-castro, but am for family visits as a necessary evil. If we could have the visits and maintain the embargo (albeit worthless)
    I would like that solution.

  7. 1. I agree that we are never going to withdraw economically from our relationship with China. But the trade imbalance between the two countries is because of China’s policies. They make it very difficult for Chinese to buy foreign goods. This is an economic mistake that will eventually catch up with them. Unchecked trade imbalances wreck havoc on both parties. I also don’t agree with the characterization of Chinese labor being slave labor. All of the Chines factory workers today are better off than they were 10 years ago. The merchand (middle) class in China is growing and so are incomes for these workers. You can’t expect them to make the same amount as a unionized US auto worker. If they did, 95% of them would be out of a job. China has a large supply of workers. As with any other good or service, when supply is high price is driven downward.

    2. You say Cuba has no need to make any concessions to us. Sure you are right, if the next leaders of Cuba are as content to run a third world shithole as fidel castro is. Unless Cuba makes fundamental economic reforms it will not have a successful economy. The people waiting in the wings know that. They know that the light of the end of the tunnel is a big aid package and loans and investment that are going to be needed to build up infrastructure in the post-castro reality. As much as they pay lipservice to “Socialismo o muerte” now, they know that fidel-style socialism is a failure. And how long can they depend on Venezuela? What if Chavez is eliminated tomorrow? Putting all your eggs in the basket of being Venezuela’s stepchild in perpetuity does not strike me as a smart strategy for these guys. Cuban economists are not dumb. They are just hamstrung by the political/economic ideology of the tyrant.

    3. The embargo certainly hurts Cuba inasmuch as it denies castro the amount of hard currency that he would have coming in if it didn’t exist. There can be no denying that if Cuba were open to American tourists that Cuban tourism revenue would increase. Same with other aspects of trade. Perhaps it doesn’t hurt Cuba as much as we’d like it too (enough to get rid of the tyrant) but it hurts him, otherwise he wouldn’t be trying buy enough influence to get it removed.

    4. There’s a whole series of differences between China and Cuba which I outlined in my very first post on this blog. As I mentioned China’s economic and labor situation is not like Cuba’s. The hope was that economic engagement could bring about poltical change in China and the WSJ editorial I posted to start this discussion is just some of the proof that it isn’t working in China. So why would it work in Cuba where the economy is even more controlled and restrictive.

  8. Economic engagement will never work in a totalitarian society because the people in charge can not afford to shed light on all of their crimes.

    They will continue to oppress the people without letting them share in any prosperity or freedom. For these tyrants it is merely survival and since they have all the power…they will perpetuate their existence at the expense of those they exploit.
    Even though Chinese workers make more money now…they still don’t have any rights and are forced to work long hours and even sleep at these factories. Didn’t you see the recent problems at the iPod factory in China?

    When we look at these regimes we should not do so through the prism of our values and aspirations. These people are all ruthless and only force will get rid of them.

    I too am torn when I see all of these products made in China. I don’t think it is just Wal-Mart though. This has become the norm for all consumer goods. I believe in Capitalism, but it must be tempered with humanity or, like all extremes, it too can turn into the same ruthless exploitation that is totalitarianism.

  9. Mavi,

    I agree with you. But I think you’d agree that the plight of the average Chinaman is better in objective terms than the plight of the averag North Korean. In fact the Koreans are abandoning Korea to get into China the way Cubans are trying to get here. China has a long way to go, but they also have a much different set of parameters than Cuba. Feeding 1.3 billion people is a lot different than feeding 11 million. And Cuba was a country that pre-castro didn’t have a problem feeding its people. Certainly there was poverty but Cuba was a fertile country where the poorest people often lived in the interior yet they had food to eat and it wasn’t a crime to slaughter a pig for your own consumption. Cuba was a westernized country that has been forced into this abnormal Soviet style Marxism that just doesn’t work.

  10. the unglamorours fact is that these things take time. yeah, they put an activist in jail the other day, which sucks, but I imagine things were a lot worse 30 years ago, just like things were a lot worse here in the states in early 1900.

    of course, on the other hand, china is such a big place that there’s always the possibility they’ll change the rules of the game completely. in that case, I like to tell people, you think American hegemony is bad? ha. wait till the chinese are ruling things, and you’ll be cryin’ for good ol’ uncle sam.

  11. Conductor,

    I agree with you, but I don’t think western values apply when dealing with comnmunists or with terrorists, for that matter.

    They have other objectives which are not necessarily “market driven”. I also agree with pkrupa, I don’t want to see the day when the Chinese are in “charge”.

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