China and Africa Redux
The latest New York Times magazine has a great article about China's relationship with African countries. However, there's some dissimulation going on:
...China offered a model of development, driven from above and powered by high-tech investment, vastly more gratifying and reassuring to third-world elites than the Western gospel of unleashing growth through democratic and marketplace reform. Western donors, led by the I.M.F., conditioned aid on the achievement of meaningful, and often painful, reform. China, by contrast, offered aid without “conditionality.” According to China’s official African policy, published earlier this year, China seeks “a new type of strategic partnership,” which, among other things, “respects African countries’ independent choice of the road of development.” China invokes this doctrine of noninterference when defending the grossly abusive regimes in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Eritrea and elsewhere with which it carries on a flourishing business.Now, I myself recently pointed out that the Chinese government has been accused of "looking the other way" when confronted with a client nation's human rights failings.
But one needn't dig too deeply into the details of Euro-American economic growth between 1798 and 1956 to uncover the fact that this growth had very little to do with either democracy or free markets. More recently, how closely did Belgium toe that line when it continued to trade with Mobutu's Zaire/Congo? How much did the Netherlands overlook when Suharto was in power in Indonesia? What about the United States and Morocco back in the 1980s--did that regime qualify as "grossly abusive"? For that matter, what about the US and the entire Western hemisphere? Has the US ever taken a hard decision to cut off trade ties to a grossly abusive Latin American regime, so long as that regime remained pro-capitalist and continued to trade with the US?
Further problems: A closer look at this eerie paragraph shows a mention of IMF-led "meaningful, and often painful, reform." But everyone knows that the reform the IMF is talking about involves little more than such acts as selling off state-owned industries to multinational corporations. This means, on the ground, that the government becomes directly responsible for the loss of income for the families whose breadwinners used to have good jobs with the government and now have been fired by XYZ Corp. Inc. Such actions have nothing at all to do with increasing press freedom, releasing dissidents, and lifting bans on political parties. In fact, they'll probably lead to the opposite: a weakening of the government and a crackdown on the bread rioters.
Yet the implication of the next few lines' mention of "grossly abusive regimes" leads readers to believe that the IMF cares at all whether the real opposition parties get equal airtime in the media, or whether their leaders get tossed in jail every couple of years. Yet another example of the conflation of economic and individual liberty, anyone?
There nevertheless remains a stated goal of political as well as economic freedom in many of these trade pacts with the West, a goal that is not stated for trade pacts with China. So does it matter that belief and practice fail to coicide? What's worse, to hold lofty principles but ignore them, or to hold low principles and measure up each time?
Many world leaders seem to know that they can trade with the West and oppress if they want to or need to, just so long as they (1) keep their opponents silenced quietly, as Egypt appears to be trying to do--although with the Internet's persistent pressure and global reach, such coverups might be over (for example, Slashdot has taken up the cause of the opposition bloggers who have been arrested for publicizing the appalling and grotesque sexual abuse of female protestors)--and/or (2) make sure the violence is perpetrated by vaguely "non-governmental paramilitary groups," as is the case in Colombia or Iraq, in which case the government can just blame overly zealous patriots for getting out of hand. But this is what's happening in Sudan, right? These suspiciously well-armed and pro-government Janjaweed "rioters" technically have no formal ties to the government, right? So why does the New York Times have to argue so insistently that the Sudanese government's evil deeds differ so starkly from those of Western allies?
I'm media-critiquing here--I actually favor using any necessary and effective means to deter human rights abuses. But I guess I'm just suspicious whenever news stories critical of China and Sudan seem to ignore history and reproduce conventional wisdom when the evidence is sadly lacking. Sounds like desperate anti-Chinese panic to me...