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Is everyone asleep at the wheel?
September 19, 2000 8:56 PM   Subscribe

Is everyone asleep at the wheel? "The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill to normalize trade with China, marking a turning point in a half-century of stormy relations between the world’s strongest power and its most populous nation. In return, trade relations will no longer hinge on China’s human rights record, a link that has long irritated Beijing." It is a sad day for human rights in China.
posted by Brilliantcrank (25 comments total)

 
For thirty years, the world tried to use an economic boycott of South Africa and Rhodesia (remember "Rhodesia"?) to try to impose changes in human rights there -- and it was an abject failure. Human rights in those countries only improved (and regarding Zimbabwe, that word is used advisedly) as a result of internal change; the external pressure never made the slightest bit of difference.

We've been trying to do the same thing with China, and it hasn't worked there, either.

At some point, when a strategem has failed to work for decades, there comes a point where it makes sense to give up on it.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:22 PM on September 19, 2000


Aw come on, SDB, economic sanctions can make a difference - we've been blockading Cuba for almost 40 years now, and Castro's geting close to dying of old age!
Do I really need to identify that as sarcasm?
posted by wendell at 10:29 PM on September 19, 2000


Check the label on your shoes. That's why it hasn't worked.
posted by holgate at 10:41 PM on September 19, 2000


It's important to distinguish between:

(a) protectionists/isolationists (Pat Buchanan etc) who advocate a nationalistic form of corporate welfare, and unfairly bash China because they want to "shelter" particular American industries;

and

(b) progressives/internationalists (the Post-Seattle coalition, AKA "the protesters") who "do not support the permanent normalization of trade relations with China at this time for the same reasons that we do not support any efforts to strengthen the current trade and investment institutions without explicitly addressing social and environmental concerns."

That description is from an article by Sarah Anderson et al., called "Don't Strengthen the WTO by admitting China". Here's an excerpt:

"There are good reasons to oppose China's entry into the WTO, and to oppose the current framework for granting permanent normal trading relations (PNTR) with the United States. However, these reasons do not include the singling-out of China on its human rights record. The challenge for the post-Seattle coalition of citizen organizations is to conduct the China debate in a way which builds upon the North-South and cross-sectoral alliances that were strengthened in the Seattle and Washington protests. Many Southern groups are rightly alarmed by the hyperbolic "China-bashing" that some opponents of PNTR have used. The tactic of singling out China as the great rogue nation on a range of issues weakens the strong North-South alliances that are critical to shifting the direction of the global economy. There are strong "internationalist" reasons to oppose the China deal, and we urge education and advocacy to center on these arguments."
posted by johnb at 11:01 PM on September 19, 2000


Steven -- PR firms and the corporate media have been quite effective in promoting the myth that linking trade and human rights "doesn't work". However, a far more destructive kind of trade sanction -- conveniently passed over in silence -- comes from the enforcement of corporate-protectionist measures like TRIPS. Apparently, trade rules only "work" when shareholders benefit (by definition perhaps). Interesting.
posted by johnb at 11:07 PM on September 19, 2000


The US does not exactly have a clean record in this area itself!!

Right around the time of Tiannamen, we sent 26,000 troops into Panama to do various Bad Things TM.

We're lucky China doesn't slap trade sanction on us!!!
posted by libertaduno at 6:08 AM on September 20, 2000


China no doubt loved the ass kicking that Manuel Noriega got ... would have been happy to do it themselves if they could.

Noriega and his predecessor military rulers of Panama were among Taiwan's greatest allies through Taiwan and (mainland) China's struggle for diplomatic recognitition as the "official" China in the 1960's and 1970's. (Although the mainland won in most places and international institutions, IIRC Panama _still_ grants diplomatic recognition to the Taiwan government as the official China).
posted by MattD at 6:40 AM on September 20, 2000


"the most dangerous thing in the world is a young, unmarried, unemployed man. China has a hundred million of them". I forget who said that, and I'm probably quoting badly, but you get the gist.

The easiest way to change the human rights situation in China is to leave them alone. The perpetual harping on China only reinforces the ruling elite by giving them an external "threat" to focus the people on. Deprived of their external threats, the people will eventually figure out that they're being screwed and that they can do something about it....and if they don't, then that's their own problem.
posted by aramaic at 6:40 AM on September 20, 2000


It's a great day for human rights in China!

I believe a stronger economy in China will lead to the eventual overthrow of the Communist regime much faster than poverty would.
posted by Mick at 7:59 AM on September 20, 2000


Johnb, I seem to recall challenging you on this point the last three threads that free trade issues came up and not getting a defense from you.

You claim (again) that progressives/internationalists (the Post-Seattle coalition, AKA "the protesters") who "do not support the permanent normalization of trade relations with China at this time for the same reasons that we do not support any efforts to strengthen the current trade and investment institutions without explicitly addressing social and environmental concerns." As opposed to those who are protectionist/isolationists.

I again call bullshit. Labor is not an internationalist group. They are interested in maintaining market share, too, just like your hated corporations. The more capital and labor markets become international the more they lose that share. In fact, from the rhetoric of many of the environmental protestors I've heard, they aren't very keen on globalization in general either.

posted by norm at 8:16 AM on September 20, 2000


You call bullshit, do you norm? Again, I'm puzzled. On what grounds do you impugn the public pronouncements of the actual organizers and participants in this movement? Are you saying we have all been paid off by the AFL-CIO, or the Organic Trade Association?

Let's resolve this issue once and for all. To begin with, to say that the movement is "protectionistic" is to put forward a set of empirical claims about its origins, demographic composition and funding sources. From my experience within the movement, I can assure you that these claims are simply not supported by the observable facts.

Let us, then, ask: where did this movement come from, and what is it made of? If you look at the big picture, you see several overlapping groups, including:

1) anarchists and left-libertarians (in the tradition of Bakunin and Chomsky, including younger activists)

2) environmentalists (Earth First!, Rainforest Action Network, etc.)

3) fair trade advocates in the third world and elsewhere (Third World Network, Focus on the Global South, Global Exchange, etc.)

4) Human rights groups (Oxfam, Jubilee 2000, Food First, etc)

5) radical, internationalist workers organizations (IWW, world socialists, etc)

6) counter-"spinning" media groups (Corporate Watch, FAIR, AdBusters, IndyMedia, etc)

That doesn't cover everything but gives you an idea of the scope of the movement. Notice I didn't mention North American mainstream labor unions or farming organizations. That's because in all my experience, I haven't seen evidence of genuine involvement by these groups. Why not? In short, they don't care. Many of their members care, but the institutions themselves don't, because like corporations they are structured to protect their own interests. The AFL-CIO is not a charity organization, to say the least. Its mission is to advance the economic status of its members. Oxfam, on the other hand, is a completely different kind of organization. So is Rainforest Action Network, Jubilee 2000 and Food First. Maybe what you are claiming is that these organizations have a secretly protectionistic agenda to shelter the American peanut industry or whatever. But subscription to conspiracy theories does not add to your credibility in this matter. Or maybe you are saying the movement is secretly funded by Teamster money, or the like. If so, I must ask: money? what money? If we had any money, you think we would have our headquarters in a dilapidated old factory with a hazardously inclined floor? In LA, we were happy to sleep on a concrete basement floor in close quarters; if there was money involved, we didn't see any evidence of it.

OK, then what about the alliance with organized labor in Seattle? You know, Turtles and Teamsters, etc etc. Well, mainstream organized labor institutions oppose the WTO because it is contrary to their own economic interests. Groups like the ones cited above oppose the WTO because it is an undemocratic, irrational and morally corrupt institution. Now, what do we have in common here? You guessed it: we both oppose the WTO! So naturally we marched together. It's called strength in numbers.

In conclusion: This movement has a long philosophical tradition, but the latest upsurge in mass activism began in the Third World many years ago. Only last year did it spread to North America in a very big way. This is very gratifying to me, as I've been involved with these issues philosophically and via small-scale activism for nearly ten years. Again, as far as I can tell, mainstream labor organizations, and other protectionists, have never been a involved in a genuine way. Of course, union members, acting independently, have made important and lasting contributions, but not (of necessity) the large labor institutions themselves. Yes, it's always strategically wise to form alliances with particular unions on particular issues, but it's stupid to expect permanent, active support for, say, strong environmental regulations, or debt cancellation, from large, self-interested unions in the first world.

Hope that answers your question.


"In fact, from the rhetoric of many of the environmental protestors I've heard, they aren't very keen on globalization in general either."

The physical movement of goods causes pollution. This cost must be taken into account when assessing the consequences of increased trade. To affirm this obvious point is not to reject trade categorically.

posted by johnb at 3:32 PM on September 20, 2000


"It's a great day for human rights in China! I believe a stronger economy in China will lead to the eventual overthrow of the Communist regime much faster than poverty would."

That's funny. Statistically, the evidence suggests that entry into the WTO results in a weakened economy -- unless, according to tradition, you ignore the condition of poor people and other inconvenient facts.
posted by johnb at 3:43 PM on September 20, 2000


entry into the WTO
(same applies to liberalization generally)
posted by johnb at 4:30 PM on September 20, 2000


I call your bluff, John. Let's take your six "core" portions of the movement you see.

1. Anarchists. From your link: "[O]nly an anarcho-communist social revolution can rip up the roots. Reform is no match for capitalism's resilience; capitalism's destruction will only be achieved by a gale force storming the globe."
They may be for globalization, but not the kind mainstream people anywhere will possibly, ever, conceivably support. I doubt global revolution. Reform is your only option.

2. Environmentalists. You more or less concede they aren't so thrilled by globalization, and your links are less than instructive (except to Earth First!s link to the infoshop site, quoted above).

3. Fair trade advocates. Point conceded. Easily the most coherent group you cite. Third World Network site very good, btw.

4. Human Rights groups. These folks, while falling in the same demographics as some of your other groups, are more or less along for the ride. Oxfam and Jubilee focus mainly on debt relief, which is about to get highjacked by the nasty corporate interests in Washington. We'll relieve your debt -- if you privatize your major industries (sell them to us), slash your "bureaucracy" (throw lots of people out of work) and sell your souls to us!

5. Radical labor is globally about as relevent to the world as dog farts as a cause of global warming. Or to your movement.

6. Your media groups are not demonstrably for any type of trade. Corporation Watch never met a trade regime it ever liked, and the folks at Indy media seem to be not consistent. I followed links that seem very much what your advocacy is, and others that were pretty inflammatorily marxist/luddite/etc. So at most a wash.

Look, most of your groups aren't for globalization, at least as the term encompasses market economies. However, the mainstream of America still sees labor and farm groups before the ones you think are really the movement. How you are defined is what you are -- as far as getting people to join your movement. If labor and farm groups are not in your club, kick them out. Despite your calls for democracy, it seems the movement is destined to remain a fringe group until you choose to subvert the system instead of trying to shut it down. And you are trying to shut it down. All of the protests you champion were attempting to stop the dialogue, not for your inclusion into it.

I agree with many of the stated goals of some of your groups. Too bad I think their tactics are doomed. Subversion and reform are our only way to effect change.


posted by norm at 8:19 PM on September 20, 2000


I agree that it would be better to reform things rather than revolt, the trouble is that doesn't seem to work. I can't think of a single political reformation that has accomplished its goals and maintained them for as long as various revolutions have.
posted by kidsplateusa at 9:40 PM on September 20, 2000


I can think of at least one, and probably two.

Canada's seperation from Engilsh rule was extremely peaceful. "Umm... we don't really like you telling us what to do, eh, what say we just, you know, run ourselves, and put your picture up here and there?" "Smashing idea! Bravo!"

I'm pretty sure Australia's independance went along pretty much the same lines.

The only reason Canadian independance hasn't lasted as long as American independance is because we didn't do it as soon.

Which isn't to say revolt is a bad way of doing things, it just a different way. I, like everyone, I'm sure, would much rather see peaceful reforms at least tried.
posted by cCranium at 4:09 AM on September 21, 2000


I'd like to point out the peaceful partition of the Czech Republic from Slovakia -- no bloodshed at all. And no indication that it's going to fail.

There's also the disintegration of the Soviet Union into its various independent states. No bloodshed there, either.

And the reunification of Germany. I don't believe that one's gong to fail, either, though it might take as long as 50 years before it's really complete.

Sad to say, I think "kidsplatusa" is due for a refresher course in recent history.

And it seems to me that it's been a long time since there's been a war in Western Europe, which historically had one every couple of decades for CENTURIES. Can anyone actually conceive of Germany and France fighting a war now?

Didn't India achieve its independence without a revolution? That's been on 50 years now.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:46 AM on September 21, 2000


Sad to say, I think "kidsplatusa" is due for a refresher course in recent history.

Yes, I agree, I really wasn't thinking, but hey, it was late when I made that post :).
posted by kidsplateusa at 11:39 AM on September 21, 2000


Didn't India achieve its independence without a revolution? That's been on 50 years now.

Without a revolution per se, but not without bloodshed.

But I'll add in a pre-1776 example: the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, which established the limits of the monarchy's powers in relation to Parliament. Even as an emotional Jacobite, I have to admit that it's kept the country basically stable for 300 years.
posted by holgate at 11:53 AM on September 21, 2000


>>I call your bluff, John.

Norm, "bluff"? You may not agree with me on the issues, but it's silly to think I would lie about what my views are.

Look, for every point of view there's going to be a spectrum along which particular expressions of it will vary according to time horizon. If you're planning on getting a particular piece of legislation passed next week, you'll confine the discourse to a particular issue with broad appeal. But if you're looking forward several centuries, you're free to articulate a more utopian vision. This applies whether you are on the left or right, whether you're talking about Milton Friedman's vision of free markets, or Bookchin's Libertarian Municipalism.

Anyway, that's why I mentioned the more "radical" groups in characterizing the movement. The bulk of the movement is focused on *reforming* the global economic system, in the same way the US economic system was reformed in the "progressive era".

That's right, I said REFORM!

But this focus on short term results does not eliminate the need to articulate a long-term vision, which may or may not involve revolution, or a radical change in how things work.

The same goes for science, for that matter. Darwin had revolutionary ideas about human nature, and yet, more than a century later, the most powerful nation in the world is chock full of religious wackos. In fact, statistically, Darwinism is a fringe point of view -- far more Americans believe in UFOs. Does that make Darwin a failure, or his ideas unnecessary? I think not.

So to summarize, if you look at mass movements for social change throughout history, you'll find that they're composed of different layers of engagement: there will be activists working to change things next week, and there will be theorists with a longer time horizon. And this is how it should be. It's called division of labor.

>>1. Anarchists. From your link: "[O]nly an anarcho-communist social revolution can rip up the roots. Reform is no match for capitalism's resilience; capitalism's destruction will only be achieved by a gale force storming the globe."
They may be for globalization, but not the kind mainstream people anywhere will possibly, ever, conceivably support. I doubt global revolution. Reform is your only option.


I addressed this concern above.

>>2. Environmentalists. You more or less concede they aren't so thrilled by globalization, and your links are less than instructive (except to Earth First!s link to the infoshop site, quoted above).

The fact is, the world as a whole is excessively wealthy. North America is full of morbidly obese people driving SUVs. And yet 40,000 people die every day from not getting enough to eat. This is clearly a case of collective irrationality. In particular, the problem is distribution of wealth, not net quantity of wealth. As a mechanism for solving this distribution problem, free trade is grossly inefficient -- indeed, it demonstrably increases world inequality. That's just a fact. And it is environmentally destructive. Another fact. The problem is, the strategy of substituting mass redistribution for "globalization" -- broadly defined -- is not a realistic option in short term. Which is why we focus on fair trade...

>>3. Fair trade advocates. Point conceded. Easily the most coherent group you cite. Third World Network site very good, btw.

Yup, and that's where I'm coming from. In fact, it's arguably the core of the movement -- as I've said over and over again in these threads. That's why I keep linking to organizations like Global Exchange. I sound like a broken record, and I'm sure it's pretty annoying. The point is, at the end of the day, Global Exchange gets shit done. Same with all the other organizations that, ideologically, form the core of the movement.

Don't take this as a personal attack, but from what I've read of your posts on Metafilter, you really don't know what this movement is about. Not to suggest you are alone. There's a tremendous amount of ignorance out there, and we've always had to deal with it. That's of course our problem, but the solution isn't a simple one like "stay on message" or whatever. It's deeper than that. Most people get there news from the mass media (NBC, CNN etc), which in the US is under the thumb of large corporations. Obviously they are not going to piss off their only customers (again, large corporations) by casting the anti-corporate protesters in a positive light. So they try to make us look like some sort of fringe cult, directed by Ted Kaczynski perhaps; whereas, in truth, what we are saying has inherently broad appeal. The wonderful thing is that, slowly but surely, we are winning -- that is, these propaganda techniques are becoming less and less effective, as word is spread by alternative means.

>>4.. Human Rights groups. These folks, while falling in the same demographics as some of your other groups, are more or less along for the ride.

Huh?

>>Oxfam and Jubilee focus mainly on debt relief,

Jubilee 2000 focuses on debt relief; Oxfam covers a wide range of development issues -- check out their site.

>> which is about to get highjacked by the nasty corporate interests in Washington. We'll relieve your debt -- if you privatize your major industries (sell them to us), slash your "bureaucracy" (throw lots of people out of work) and sell your souls to us!

Not if we win -- which we will!

>>5. Radical labor is globally about as relevent to the world as dog farts as a cause of global warming. Or to your movement.

Again, I addressed this point in the introduction.

>>6. Your media groups are not demonstrably for any type of trade.

Not true. Mostly opponents to corporate globalization.

>> Corporation Watch never met a trade regime it ever liked,

Those are all corporate-friendly trade regimes, as you know.

>> and the folks at Indy media seem to be not consistent.

Naturally, it's democratic media. But the consensus is against corporate globalization.

>> I followed links that seem very much what your advocacy is, and others that were pretty inflammatorily marxist/luddite/etc.

Those labels are not informative.

>> Look, most of your groups aren't for globalization, at least as the term encompasses market economies. However, the mainstream of America still sees labor and farm groups before the ones you think are really the movement. How you are defined is what you are -- as far as getting people to join your movement. If labor and farm groups are not in your club, kick them out.

Labor and farm groups are welcome! What I was saying above was that, if you actually look at what the UAW and other large unions have contributed as groups, it tends to be temporary and issue-by-issue. That's just in the nature of what these group are for. Global Exchange, Food First, RAN etc, on the other hand, are in it for the long term.

>> Despite your calls for democracy, it seems the movement is destined to remain a fringe group until you choose to subvert the system instead of trying to shut it down. And you are trying to shut it down. All of the protests you champion were attempting to stop the dialogue, not for your inclusion into it.

Again, the WTO is just not structured to include us. It's a simple as that. In fact, that's the excuse they give for not including us! You really think we would be having this conversation if the WTO were actually democratic and transparent?!

>> I agree with many of the stated goals of some of your groups. Too bad I think their tactics are doomed.

What are you talking about? We've had victory after victory. That should be apparent to anyone who has been paying attention. And this is just the beginning.

>>Subversion and reform are our only way to effect change.

Across the board? No -- That's just historically false.
In this context, in North America? Of course -- What do you think we are doing?
posted by johnb at 2:27 PM on September 21, 2000


Excessive verbiage aside, where might I sign up for a movement to restructure globalism instead of childishly shutting down meetings? Jesus. Me and most of the rest of the country would support such a movement but I'm not getting involved in one that is as stupid about the media, tactics, and message as it is inconsistent with its advocacy.

Don't take this as a personal attack, but from what I've read of your posts on Metafilter, you really don't know what this movement is about.

Most of my best friends are in the movement and they can't logically explain the point beyond blanket criticisms of the system. I've got friends with Food not Bombs, Klamath/Siskiyou, Earth First!, etc. (My pet cause is the Buffalo Commons, BTW. And, quite frankly, your movement isn't about anything but unstructured criticism. Poll 100 members off the street at one of these protests and you'll get at least 50 answers. Get some consistent advocacy and I'm there with you.

Until then, I'm not ignoring my education in economics to fool myself with idealistic delusions of grandeur while you pretend this movement will move us towards internationalism instead of protectionism. Despite the stated goals of many of your organizations, the actual effect of stopping these meetings is actually to provide an excuse for national governments to stop all dialogue on international globalism.
posted by norm at 3:14 PM on September 21, 2000


Norm:

Most of my best friends are in the movement and they can't logically explain the point

Big deal. Logical explanation isn't everyone's gift. If you want to get a logical explanation, go ask someone who's good at logical explanations. Demanding comprehensive understanding of the subject and the ability to articulate coherent opinions from EVERY activist, before you'll take their position seriously, is unrealistic and foolish.

And, quite frankly, your movement isn't about anything but unstructured criticism. Poll 100 members off the street at one of these protests and you'll get at least 50 answers. Get some consistent advocacy and I'm there with you.

So not only are you expecting every activist to have a coherent, thoroughly developed manifesto, but they all have to be using the same manifesto, or it's all bunk? What bull. If someone shows up to an anti-WTO protest, then it is safe to assume they are opposed to the WTO, regardless of their reasons. What does it matter that fifty people at the same demonstration have different reasons for being there? The fact that they are there, protesting against the WTO, the Democratic Party, or the World Bank, as the case may be, illustrates what they are trying to change. Actions speak louder than words, and they're speaking plenty loud right now if you care to listen.

You're mistaking this movement's greatest strength for a weakness.

Despite the stated goals of many of your organizations, the actual effect of stopping these meetings is actually to provide an excuse for national governments to stop all dialogue on international globalism.

Progress toward corporate international globalism requires dialogue. If the national governments can't get together to agree on where they are going, they'll have a much harder time going there. The actual effect of stopping these meetings is to buy time, which is rather necessary for accomplishing the stated goals of many organizations involved. This, of course, is why these organizations are involved.

Even when the meetings aren't stopped, the action brings attention to discussions that would have otherwise been quiet, unpublicized affairs. This can only be a good thing.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:26 PM on September 21, 2000


Exactly so, Mars -- bravo!
posted by johnb at 4:34 PM on September 21, 2000


I can't support a group that isn't for anything. Earlier, John, you said that democracy was the thing holding together the protests. I don't buy that -- if you were for democracy you'd be voted off the streets. I do know that halting globalization is dangerous, and history backs me up (or have you never heard of "Hawley-Smoot?")

Sure, your protests are effective, but to what end?

Progress toward corporate international globalism requires dialogue. If the national governments can't get together to agree on where they are going, they'll have a much harder time going there.

Progress towards any type of globalization requires dialogue. I haven't seen much evidence for protests demanding dialogue.

Logical explanation isn't everyone's gift. If you
want to get a logical explanation, go ask someone who's good at logical explanations. Demanding comprehensive understanding of the subject and the ability to articulate coherent opinions from EVERY activist, before you'll take their position seriously, is unrealistic and foolish.


We must allow the vanguard class to speak for the group! All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others! Too Orwellian for me, sorry. It's not too much to ask people what they're protesting against.
posted by norm at 10:37 AM on September 22, 2000


I can't support a group that isn't for anything. Earlier, John, you said that democracy was the thing holding together the protests. I don't buy that -- if you were for democracy you'd be voted off the streets. I do know that halting globalization is dangerous, and history backs me up (or have you never heard of "Hawley-Smoot?")

You cite an Economist editorial as evidence? Nice one. In any case, there's nothing new there -- same old mythology, inconsistent with the facts. If you actually look at the data, you find that the current system is not, after all, good for the poor (as theory predicted all along, btw)

Let me repeat that the proposals we are making are essentially redistributionist, and therefore will not result in a net migration of jobs back to the first world. That is, protecting the environment and workers rights -- globally -- is consistent with preserving incentives for third world investment (I'm referring to such win-win measures as the Tobin Tax, debt cancellation etc)

Sure, your protests are effective, but to what end?

Interesting article, I think I'll blog that one.

Progress toward corporate international globalism requires dialogue. If the national governments can't get together to agree on where they are going, they'll have a much harder time going there.

Progress towards any type of globalization requires dialogue. I haven't seen much evidence for protests demanding dialogue.


Then you haven't been paying attention.

We must allow the vanguard class to speak for the group! All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others! Too Orwellian for me, sorry. It's not too much to ask people what they're protesting against.

We're not against division of labor, we're against hierarchy. People have different talents -- acknowledging this obvious fact does not mean silencing anyone. Why don't you ask a randomly selected member of the US army to explain the rationale behind corporate-led globalization?
posted by johnb at 1:54 PM on September 22, 2000


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