If Warren Christopher’s, the US Secretary of State, visit to China last March was meant to frighten the Chinese rulers into improving their human rights record on penalty of losing their Most Favoured Nation status with the US, then his words fell on deaf ears, that is if they were meant to be taken seriously in the first place.
Christopher was in reality only paying the human rights issue lip service, and his visit should be rather seen as that of harbinger of US capitalism.
Six months later, in early September, it was the turn of the US Commerce Secretary, Ron Brown, to visit China with 24 accompanying executives – the first US official to do so since March. This time human rights issues were so far down the agenda as to be negligible.
Perhaps Brown had been reading up on his Napoleon, who warned that when China wakes up. the world will tremble. In the eyes of the West, and in light of the market reforms introduced in the late ‘70s, China is indeed waking up.
Last December, Will Hutton observed how China’s “projected growth alone over the next decade will equal the entire current annual output of Europe” (Guardian, 21 December).
This September, Time International reported that by the year 2000:
“China is expected to go on a trillion-dollar shopping spree for foreign technology. The potential for profit is so vast that no industrialised country can afford to pass it up” (12 September).
Thus, Brown and his entourage might not have left with guarantees regarding human rights, but they did return home with contracts worth $6 billion, including a commitment by Shanghai Airlines to purchase 11 Boeing passenger jets for $l billion.
Brown even resuscitated a joint US-China commission on commerce, a bilateral agreement suspended by George Bush in the wake of Tiananmen in 1989. Not that trade between the two nations had ever been put on hold. In fact, two-way commerce between the US and China for the first six months of 1994 was 33 percent up on 1993, with the US purchasing $31.5 billions-worth of Chinese goods, four times the US exports to China.
Even during Brown’s visit, Chinese dissidents were being arrested. The Chinese authorities could do this in the full knowledge that for the US profit comes first.
What many Chinese fear is that when China revs up the capitalist bandwagon, the economic collapse, social anarchy and regional conflict so evident now in the former Soviet Union, will be just around the next bend.
Already there is evidence that the Western policies that China is being forced by economic circumstances arc causing havoc. There are currently 100 million out-of-work peasants and 20 million are now roaming the country looking for work. The “human rights” China hitherto enjoyed, including guaranteed housing, health care and free education up to university level, are now being dismantled.
Capitalist China, with a GAP 10.6 percent up on last year, and the world’s 11th biggest merchandise exporter, is seen by the West only as a market of one billion consumers. That it still arrests dissidents, has a forced labour population of 10 million in 1,000 camps and has suspended talks with the International Red Cross regarding access to Chinese prisons is of no significance to Western entrepreneurs.
Ron Brown summed up the US view in a nutshell when he stated that the US:
“do not want the Germans or the French or anyone to move in. We want US companies to get not just their fair share, but more than their fair share of what’s on offer” (Time International, 12 September).
With China’s merchandise exports leaping from $53 billion in 1989 to $91 billion in 1993, and as a rival for Asian markets, China is a nation the US cannot afford to ignore. What impact future reforms will have on the Chinese working class remains to be seen, but it is a fair bet that human rights abuses will spiral when hundreds of millions of Chinese begin to feel the pangs of increased inequality and attempt to bridge the gap between poverty and wealth.