Wednesday, 1 June 2005

Chinese free trade makes strange bedfellows

No Right Turn is more eloquent than Rod Donald when it comes to arguing against Helen Clark's free trade deal with China:
As for the wider issue of whether we should be pursuing free trade with a totalitarian shithole like China, the rest of Clark's statement - that if were only to trade with countries with similar values, it would be a very short list - has some merit, but only some. Because what's at issue is not the full western liberal democratic package, but the bare minimum we should expect from any country - things like not torturing people, not detaining them arbitrarily, and not driving tanks over them whenever they criticise the government, all of which China wantonly violates. And while it does show some welcome signs of moving in the right direction, it is still far from meeting even those minimum standards.
Fair points, all of them. Despite many enormously hopeful signs, China is still by no means a paragon of freedom. All the signs are however that it in moving in that direction. Where Russia went for political freedom while ignoring economic freedom, China is focussing first on economic liberation. As Mises Institute's Lew Rockwell said back in 1997,
This has resulted in a historic economic boom of double-digit annual growth, unprecedented freedom and prosperity for huge elements of the population, and a dramatic decline in government power. Within the lifetimes of every middle-aged person, the country has moved from mass starvation and terror to accommodating huge commercial centers that rival Houston and Montreal. The Chinese authorities can call it communism if they want to, but the system rising there is more Mises than Marx.
As Rockwell argues here, (yes, he can sometimes talk sense), trade with other countries is a tool of liberation. Can anyone doubt that if America had lifted its trade embargo to Cuba twenty years ago old busy whiskers Fidel would by now have joined Ferdinand Marcos in the graveyard of gone-and-almost-forgotten former leaders of totalitarian shitholes.

Trade with China is good for us, and it can be good for the Chinese. As Rockwell says "The anti-China crowd is proposing to punish the Chinese people for the infractions of the Chinese government." If NRT really wants to encourage more of those "welcome signs of moving in the right direction" that he and I both see, he should join me in welcoming this deal.

In the meantime and for once, I'm on the side of Helen Clark and NoRightTurn is on the other. Freedom sometimes makes for strange bedfellows.


  1. Having said that, it would be a pleasing novelty if Clark would assert the genuine rights of human beings in Beijing as loudly as she proclaims the fake rights of whales in Tokyo.

  2. You seem to have missed the other half of the post: I support the deal, primarily because we can use it as a tool to both promote and reward China for moving in the right direction.

  3. I/S, I'm genuinely sorry if I read you wrong. I couldn't quite tell from the conclusion of your post whether you were for or against or truly ambivalent(I've pasted it below). Glad to hear then that we've both reached the same conclusion, for what seems like very similar reasons.


    I/S (from the conclusion of his original blogpost): "...China wants something from us rather badly: our endorsement that they are an acceptable international trade partner. And while I don't think we're in that much of a position to refuse - or rather, given the money involved, a refusal on principle would be ineffective; China would simply negotiate with someone else (such as Australia) - it is still not something that we should give lightly. Free trade negotiations are an opportunity to press for progress on human rights, and we should use them as such and press the hardest bargain we can. Our best way of making a difference here is not by standing aside and refusing to sully our hands, but by trying to set a pattern of linking trade to human rights improvements, so that other, weightier nations will follow suit."


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