One of the most important foreign policy issues for the United States of America
, and one that has proven to become increasingly prominent in coming years, is the manner America deals with the People’s Republic of China
is rapidly becoming an economic
, military, and political superpower
. America’s relationship with China is controversial amongst many groups because of reasons ranging from China’s atrocious human rights
record, to the staggering trade deficit
America has with China (more than eighty-three billion dollars per year in 2000
(State Dept., 1), to China’s threatening stance towards democratic Taiwan
. The United States has maintained that a limited series of economic sanctions against China, as well as military intimidation, will lead to a contained, more free China. These assumptions are in error. To encourage a freer China, the United States should not pursue a foreign policy which would lead to increased tensions, or decreased trade with the People’s Republic of China.
At present, the United States exports roughly sixteen billion dollars worth of goods to the PRC (Morrison, 3). If the United States was to cut off it’s exports to China in some kind of punitive measure, then that sixteen billion dollars a year in U.S. exports (increasing by 2 billion per year (State Dept. 1) would be lost. Over 170,000 American jobs depend directly on exports to China (Commerce Dept., 2). The loss of 170,000 jobs would increase the unemployment rate by an entire tenth of a percent, and potentially creating a chain-reaction of economic recession within the U.S. economy.
The United States could also put into place protection tactics similar to the ones employed by China to limit foreign imports (such a plan has been suggested by members of the United States government). The multitude of low value toys and cheap consumer goods that are imported from China each year could not be easily replaced. Domestic factories would take years to build, and even longer in the developing countries that traditionally import that class of goods into the United States. While American corporations would struggle to meet the massive demand, the economy would suffer from the shortage of cheap consumer goods coming in. The 100 billion dollars that China earns each year from their exports to America would be sorely missed by the Chinese, making the any threat to cut off trade by the U.S. a powerful threat, though ultimately self-damaging.
The American exports of high technology, such as computers, telecommunications, and other devices that aid the dissemination of information serve not only to modernize China, but also to advance the cause of freedom. Although all ‘undesirable’ Internet sites are supposedly blocked by the government, it is relatively easy for the approximately 25.5 million Internet users in China to bypass many of the blocks, and the blocks to not affect E-mail (Shaw, 3). Computers are used by so-called ‘subversive elements’ to share ideas, talk about what is wrong with the government, society, and to convert others to their cause. Thanks in large part to U.S. technological exports, China’s Internet is expected to expand, and become significantly cheaper. Were the U.S. to restrict exports to China, then the Chinese Internet would suffer, and so would the cause of freedom in the PRC.
With the planning of military programs such as the Ballistic Missile Defense Network, the sale of advanced aircraft, ordnance, and naval vessels to the breakaway province of Taiwan, and the exchange of military threats and promises between Beijing and Washington, relations with the People’s Republic of China are some of America’s coldest relations since the Cold War. By taking stances that serve to fuel the smoldering fire of tensions between the two countries, the United States government is only serving to strengthen the grip of the anti-freedom, pro-imperialist, communist leadership.
By supporting actions that increase tensions between the U.S. and the PRC, whether it be the movements of aircraft carriers, the smart-bombing of Chinese embassies, or the surveillance of Chinese military assets by reconnaissance aircraft, or encouraging a pro-independence government in Taiwan, the United States only serves to fuel nationalistic sentiment among the Chinese population. Increased nationalism encourages increased support for the totalitarian regime in Beijing. When the United States inadvertently bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Yugoslavia air war, hordes of demonstrators turned out at the American embassy in Beijing, throwing rocks, burning American flags, and even throwing Molotov cocktails at the embassy buildings. These violent demonstrators were not members of an organized government protest squad, but rather high school and college students (Shaw, 2). It does not matter whether the U.S. was right or wrong, but rather how they are portrayed by the state run media, and the media often portrays America as being in the wrong. That leads the students to be infuriated with America for wronging their country. Traditionally students are the source of the appeal for extreme social change, and they are not as vocal in their pro-democracy sentiments if they are busy shouting for ‘retaliation’ against the United States. The U.S. should be a symbol of freedom for them, not of national hatred.
One of the major concerns that people have with opening normal, free trade relations with China, is the extent to which China employs child and forced labor, and the terribly poor working conditions. These concerns are then used as an argument against opening free trade with China, which is not quite logical. American factories operating in China often pay a higher wage than that of domestic factories, up to twenty cents an hour more. That twenty cents may not seem like much, but seeing has how the average worker’s wage is twenty cents an hour (Dept. of Commerce, 6), a one hundred percent increase would be highly desirable. Were American corporations to have freer access to the Chinese labor market, then competition for workers (already a scarce commodity in some parts of China) will give rise to a wage-raising war between foreign investors trying to acquire and keep the workers. This wage war could theoretically raise wages in industrial China dramatically, with the wages being already so incredibly low. An increased wage for Chinese workers in foreign owned factories could contribute to eventual labor reform by the Chinese government.
If the United States wants to promote freedom and human rights in China, then it’s wisest course would be to stay away from provocative military and political stances, and a China open to free trade. The United States does presently have a trade deficit with China, but the prospect of more open markets for advanced U.S. goods is an attractive one, and the U.S. could not survive economically without it’s infusion of cheap consumer goods. The U.S. technology being sold to China aids it in the expansion of it’s Internet infrastructure, a critical component of any ambition China has of being a free speech society.
The United States should also not provoke China, through the use of covert and overt surveillance, or through diplomatic saber rattling. Both of those courses only leads to a hardening of patriotism and nationalism in the PRC, and generally dims the cause of democracy in the minds of the students, who are busy throwing things at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. As for workers in China, the increased wages that they have (and the even greater wages they would have with free trade) would only serve to raise the bar in China, and push along social advancement, and help to alleviate the problems China has with human rights.
In the end, the two best things that the United States can do to advance freedom in their dealings with China, is to open China up to free trade, and to make sure that China is not being provoked either politically or militarily.
Internet Censorship in China
By Joy C. Shaw, OJR Contributor
Online Journalism Review - May, 1999
Improving Human Rights in China M
James Dorn – November, 2000
China-U.S. Trade Issues Issue Brief
Wayne M. Morrison; Congressional Research Service
March 5, 2001
The Trade Deficit With China
Fact Sheet; Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State,
June 17, 1997.
National Trade Data Bank - May, 1999