To what extent (if any) should the U.S. link trade and human rights record? (China)

I apologize if this has been done before - I was shocked when a search didn’t turn up any threads. And I was also shocked to see mattmcl and pldennison on the same side of an issue in the Cultural Imperialism thread in GQ.

In 2000, Congress passed a bill to permanently normalize trade relations with China (PNTR). This granted China “Most Favored Nation” status needed to enter the World Trade Organization, removing the annual Senate review. The U.S. has granted MFN status to China every year since 1977 - not revoking it even during the Tiannemen square protests and subsequent crackdown. Basically, the agreement just rubber-stamped something that was already in place. China’s membership in the WTO will subject it to WTO rules and arbitration processes, giving the U.S. an outlet for grievances that did not exist previously.

For the opponents of PNTR, and those who think we should link trade with China to their human rights record, I’d like to ask a couple questions:

  1. Do you think we should stop trading with China until they clean up their human rights record? Given the misinformation that regularly comes out of Beijing, what would it take to convince you that things were better? 10 years of positive Amnesty International reports? The fall of the communist government?

  2. Do you think that China would change anything about its practices based on the say-so of the U.S. and the threat of an end to trade?

  3. Do you think that the presence of U.S. companies in China helps or hurts Chinese workers and citizens? Why?

  4. How do you answer the arguments of the pro-trade side that greater political freedom will come through greater economic freedom and exposure to American business practices, products (the internet, cell phones) and ideas?

  5. The PNTR agreement has strict language about child and convict labor - the U.S. has the right to close our markets to goods produced by children and convicts. Does this make a difference in the way you view the agreement?

To be open about my own views and position, I am an avid opponent of “People’s Republics” and communist governments. The human rights abuses routinely committed by China’s government sicken me, and I do feel squeamish about sending the message that China is A-OK as long as America is making money on the deal.

However, I am a “free-trader.” I do believe greater economic freedom and interaction will increase personal freedom for the Chinese people - once the genie of the free market is out of the bottle the government will have trouble putting it back in. Greater trade is the first step towards greater freedom.

Maggie, I think the gravamen of this GD is #4, and I’d like to pose the question in another way:

what is more likely to effect positive change in a repressive society, negative influence on the repressive government (sanctions, conditional trade, etc.), or positive influence on the people governed by that repressive government (exposure to new ideas and IMO most importantly, the development of a middle class)?
BTW, I do not use “positive” and “negative” as a form of bias.

Both methods have their selling points. Direct action is both morally satisfying and is unambiguous - there is no way the repressive government can claim we tolerate or accept their practices. Further, we all know pain is a great teaching method, a la the hot stove.

“Constructive Engagement” is much murkier, it’s political benefits (if any) much further off in the future, but it has the benefit of provide economic gains to the repressed population now. Of course, it also fills the coffers of the repressive government.

Personally, I’m a free trader. I also think that part of free trade, or indeed economics in general, is the right to make moral choices. In a nutshell, I’m undecided.
I think for a starting point we should look at historical precedent. I think we can take as a given that sanctions don’t work (Cuba, Iran, etc.). But can we take as a given that constructive engagement (S. Africa, S. Korea) does? Did political change occur in these countries because of, despite, or parallel to U.S. policies towards them.

Bon Chance


Sua, what would I do without you?

Allow me to get even more cynical: Trade with China is good for American businesses and consumers, is good for Chinese businesses and consumers, and it might positively affect the Chinese political climate. What’s not to love?

Isolating China, refusing to deal with them economically, has no economic benefits for anyone and no guaranteed positive political outcomes. What’s the moral highground worth these days, and is it really the moral highground?

P.S. How Maggie Spent Her Summer Vacation - click on the Publications link for pro-PNTR propaganda.

I don’t know, and I don’t care.

I just wish that whatever position was agreed upon, it would be implemented fairly and consistantly.

[sub]Yeah, right…THAT’LL happen! :rolleyes:[/sub]

I rather think that in general increased wealth tends to produce liberal results. ERgo in general I’m in favor of fee trade without too many human rights preconditions. HR are expensive to maintain and install, it takes time to generate a “home market” for liberty. It strikes me, from my direct experience in the developing world, that

Added item: it strikes me tht its very easy for outsiders, Westerns, to forget the natural “us-them” reaction which outside criticism can produce. Think of how many Americnas react to the slgihtest outside criticism (when they notice it) of the USA-- I think rather negative would be a good description. This does nto invaldate outside critiques but if we want to produce real results, it is good to keep in mind that a point of diminishing and even negative returns can quickly be reached.

Whereever did you get the idea for this thread, my dear magdalene? :wink:

I tend to agree with the OP’er, that the carrot makes more sense than the stick in China’s case.

But is there a line to be drawn somewhere? Would you have taken the same approach with Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s?

Iran while we had American hostages there?

If it’s a case-by-case evaluation, what are the criteria for the evaluation? What’s the determining factor in which course to take?

[sub]Happy to bring my can-opener to the canned worm party :D[/sub]


I don’t think trading with Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s would have had the effect of “opening” their economy. Actually, we didn’t get into the war until 1941 - does anyone have any evidence that we weren’t trading with Germany in the 1930’s? Third, we entered WWII because our allies asked us and Japan attacked us, not because of a human rights agenda - the U.S. was actually turning Jews and other refugees away during the war. It is valid to say that China has committed human rights abuses on par with Nazi Germany (and Uncle Joe Stalin of the U.S.S.R. killed more people than Hitler ever dreamed of) but I don’t think the comparison is the same - trading with your enemy during a war vs. trading with a country during peacetime.

P.S. Don’t you have some bad advice to give? Your fans are lining up as we speak.

OK, I agree. Nazi Germany was a bad example.

But what about the Iran one? Hell, what about trading with Iraq now, as opposed to sanctions? Wouldn’t “Americanizing” Iraq ease some of our worries there, were it possible?

And, if you say it’s not possible, is it any less ludicrous in China? Why?

I can think of some reasons why not to trade freely with Iraq. Namely, Saddam’s aggression and tendency to not respect the borders of his neighbors.

But that sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? Some of the same worries with China.

I’m just wondering if it’s possible to codify in which situations you would use the strong arm, and in which you would use the open hand.

As I said, I think it makes sense to try to open up China with free trade and economic encouragement. But if pressed for why, I could only provide subjective impressions as to my reasoning. It seems a nebulous thing.

Actually, Germany was to a decent extent pursuing an autarkic economic policy in the 1930’s. So the Nazi policy, not ours, probably limited our trade to some extent (no cites, no numbers ;))

But, back to China. Let me pose another, deeply cynical question for yas. China is likely to be our main geopolitical rival of this century. Is it a wise policy to trade heavily with it, thus enriching its coffers and allowing it to modernize its military? Which policy is in the long-run more costly to the US?


Casual use of the word “autarkic” overrules the need for cites.

I’ll freely admit that I don’t know where you draw the line. Does it make sense to cut off trade with every regime we don’t like or who might become our rival to make a larger moral point?

I want to take another crack at this (deeply cynical) statement. Say we hadn’t passed PNTR. Say we had gone one step further and revoked the MFN status we’ve been granting China for 23 years. Wouldn’t China just satisfy its trade needs with the European Union and the rest of Asia? All we would have done is to cut U.S. businesses out of the pie, without (arguably) making a long-term dent in China’s economy.

Second, Milo, I take it you support continuation of the sanctions against Iraq. I’m undecided on them, and undecided on the usefulness of economic sanctions in general. Lifting the sanctions against Iraq is not the same thing as giving them MFN status or trading heavily with them. You are asking for some sort of rules for engagement - do you, like Satan, think we should have a uniform trading policy towards nations hostile to us or with bad human rights records?

No way. We tried that with Cuba, and look at them now. Simply put: embargoes don’t work.

See my response to #1 above.

I’d say it helps them. When I started a GD thread about sweatshop labor, someone pointed out that while the jobs offered in sweatshops may be nightmarish by American standards, they’re much better than what’s otherwise available.

I agree with them. Once people realize how much better things could be if those damn Communists weren’t in charge, popular support for the Communists will plummet.

Thanks for this one, it makes a change from evolution vs creation and the other religious threads.

In general, I have little faith in economic sanctions to reform/remove an oppressive government. In the long term we seem to damage the population excessively and give those in power a clearly identifiable enemy to blame for their troubles. (Saddam, Castro, etc.) A side effect is that we also damage ourselves economically and, when the sanctions start breaking down, from a credibility POV as well.

I do not believe the comments or policies of western governments will deflect the Chinese from their present policies. I’m not sure about cultural imperialism, but they DO see human rights differently than most westerners.

As far as Western companies doing business with the PRC, I think it is overall a good thing. It is good for the company and it is also good for the Chines that work there. While we may be abusing them by Western standards, as some one pointed out above, it’s still better than anything else available.

So, to summarize, I think we (the US & Western Europe) should continue to do business with them. The trading agreements do come with obligations on the part of China and we should hold them to these at every opportunity.



Yes, it is a wise policy. (a) USA is not the only game in town, ergo not trading with China is likely to have only tangential long term effects (b) not trading presumes that China will ipso facto be an enemy (as opposed to a rival).

Taking another view, even if the policy of trade engagement fails to produce a democratic and friendly rival, at least we profit in the medium run. We also avoid gratiutously presenting ourselves as an enemy of China, as opposed to a rival. There are limits, of course, to the amount of change which can be effected by trade, but sanctions or non-trading also is of limited effect. They clearly work best where there is some internal support, e.g. South Africa, and fail miserably when they are viewed as external oppression (e.g. Iraq).

Honestly, I really can’t understand how a country that practices capital punishment can have any say about human rights.

Honestly, I can’t understand how you would equate the attempt at punishing criminals to the issue at hand.

Oh, and though I would like to see the death penalty work, in practice, I usually fall onto theant-death penalty side. I just know a straw man when I see one…

I’m not well versed on this subject just like a lot of topics! LOL But recently I was listening to John LaCarre discuss his latest book on NPR. (Don’t remember the title and haven’t read any of his books.) Evidently he does quite a bit of field research on his subject matter before he develops a story. He was discussing the behavior of our businesses in the third world. With the main focus of our pharmaceutical industry in Africa. He claims that after the “cold war” ended we (meaning Americans, business and policy makers) had the opportunity to “take the high road” when it comes to dealing with the rest of the world, in particular 3rd world countries. Evidently we haven’t. The American public is not generally aware of the abuses against human rights that are carried out by American businesses in countries less fortunate than ours. In other words, we’re a bunch of hypocrits when it comes to “human rights”. Evidently in Africa new drugs are tested on people there before they are submitted for approval in our country. The irony of the situation is that when and if any of these drugs prove to be useful they will never be available to any of the African people because their cost would be too prohibitive.

I don’t see where it would do us any good to demonize China and their policies when we have unsafe chemical plants in India, sweatshops in Indochina, pharmaceutical intrests in Africa using people like research monkeys. I also agree that a country that puts it’s own children to death shouldn’t dictate morality to anyone.


Not me, magdalene. I’m extremely ambivalent about sanctions, and tend to think they don’t help.

Indeed, they may contribute to the suffering of people served by the government we’re imposing the sanctions against. (Although I don’t think we should assume all guilt on that front in Iraq. I think Saddam has more to do with the suffering of his people than we do.)

Understood. My point (and I do have one :)) is that most of the reasons we see Iraq as our mean, evil enemy with whom we want nothing to do exist to some extent with China.

Is China our enemy? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I’d hardly call them a friend when they have long-range nuclear missiles pointed at us. China is scary because they’re big, powerful, and to a large extent isolationist and unwilling to be a part of the world community (the hard-liners, anyway).

I don’t see any way that it can be decided in anything other than a case-by-case basis. But I’m still curious as to why countries with somewhat similar circumstances and similar relationships to us would be treated so completely differently.

The rest of the world’s developed Nations have no trouble equating the death penalty with an abuse of human rights – one assumes the Chinese don’t either. And rather than provide cites for every country, I’d be happy to respond to any contrary example anyone would care to provide.

This points up the dilemma constantly faced by the US when the use of an ethical trade criteria is mooted – other countries tend to look a little bemused, especially as The Laughing Gnome presided over such an efficient system of execution in Texas.

Up coming soon in a State near you:
Antonio Richardson is scheduled to be executed in Missouri on March 7th for a crime he committed when he was 16. International law prohibits the use of the death penalty against persons under 18 at the time a crime was committed.
Phillip Smith is scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma on March 8th for the murder of Matthew Dean Taylor. Smith was convicted on circumstantial evidence, and the trial judge believed that there was residual doubt about his guilt.
Hey guys, better luck in the next life !

I believe it’s true to say the death penalty seriously impinges on the ability of the US to use the leverage of its economic power to change very much about the conduct of other countries. There is a lot of public rhetoric but not a lot of substance.

Hmmm, this is where I work.

Again, my field in a sense since my firm is biotech and pharmacuticals.

Abuses of human rights…? I won’t deny that there are some firms out there which are bad corporate citizens some of the time. I will state that as far as I can tell, int’l firms are generally much more scrupulous, when directly operating abroad, than local firms. Local sub-contractors are another matter.

Since when? Firstly, the data is not likely to be accepted by the FDA if it does not follow US norms. Secondly, I have never heard of FDA accepting foreign subject data. Could be my ignorance of course since I don’t really work with the drugs people, but I would think I would have heard discussions thereof.

I am guessing that Le Carre is making a mangled reference to AIDS drug tests in Africa. The majors I believe have supported field trials in southern Africa in an attempt to find cheaper drug regimes for AIDS. While there has been a lot of controversy about this, I don’t see alternatives. Frankly, the resources available are limited, the amount of money ponied up by the donors, such as the every stingy USA --yes stingy, the USA is the lowest per capita donor in the world as I recall-- and the magnitude of the problem, something has to be tried.

I believe this is false. Again, as far as I know (and I readily admit I may not have full knowledge) there are no drug trails by American firms in Africa for American market drugs.

Eh? You mean Union Carbide? You should see what domestic plants dump. I hazard the opinion that largely speaking international directly owned plants are safer than domestic plants, generally.

What’s a sweatshop? Define it and maybe we can agree, but I believe the pay in Nike factories, e.g., is above the average wage. Alhtough to my understanding the textile industry uses sub-contractors in large part --an old practice to my understanding-- so this is often a question of local contractors, not ferigners.

I believe this is a distortion.