1990s >> 1994 >> no-1082-october-1994

Battering down all Chinese Walls

The last remaining bastions of the doomed “Socialism in One Country” experiment, are finally facing up to the reality of the world capitalist market to which they are, and have always been, inextricably linked.

China’s government has now pretty much given up any pretence that it is operating a non-capitalist economy, with the current slogan “Socialism with a Chinese Face”. This involves opening up the economy to international capital while retaining tight control over the apparatus of state repression.

The Chinese have been much bolder in opening up the fenced-off Economic Zones, where multinationals are free to exploit a cowed labour force without the unpleasantness of needing to account for their actions either to an elected government or to a strong union movement — increasingly the case in the other rapidly developing economies of east Asia.

Western multinationals recognise a good business partner when they see one, and the Chinese “Communists” are some of the best around. Nobody on the boards of US constructions companies like Parsons Brinckerhoff or Brown and Root wanted to see Western governments raising awkward questions of human rights on the recent anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and indeed the Clinton administration was quiet as a mouse on the subject.

The rewards are now being reaped. Between the 28 and 30 August, a US trade mission initialled over $5 billions-worth of new business in China in the key power, automotive and communications sectors.

No wonder that Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who led the trade mission with the heads of some of America’s biggest corporations, proclaimed himself “exhilarated” by the warmth of his reception from Chinese officials.

And this is a mere taster for the $250 billions-worth of infrastructure projects coming up before the end of the century in China. “We intend to compete in this market and we intend to win”, Brown warned his western rivals.

So important are these contracts to the ailing US economy — rivalling in size those in the halcyon days of the Shah’s untrammelled spending with US heavy industry — that the “moral”and liberal Bill Clinton has bowed to the inevitable and “delinked” trade and human rights issues.

The key indicator of this was the renewal by his administration of China’s Most Favoured Nation trading status after US corporations argued that the administration’s focus on human rights was jeopardising US business interests in China and benefiting competitors in Europe and Asia. US exports to China are growing at four times the rate of exports to the rest of the world, and now provide a living for around 150,000 Americans.

Commerce Secretary Brown says he will resume a “dialogue” on human rights issues this month. The Chinese contemptuously broke them off during a tense visit by Secretary of State Warren Christopher to China earlier this year.

As an interesting footnote, the contracts signed by Brown’s mission include an agreement between TRW in the US, Suman group of Guandong province and Beijing Cable TV Network to supply one million descrambler units for television programmes in Chinese households. We eagerly await the tortured explanations of Chinese state ideologues as to how this actually brings the day of universal access to the means of communications any nearer.

Andy Thomas