KAI RYSSDAL: Chinese president Hu Jintao was in Sudan today. He stopped in at a Chinese-built oil refinery there. Hu’s on an eight-country tour through the continent to shore up trade ties. China’s using tons of raw materials to fuel its industrial expansion. But he took the opportunity to do a little diplomacy, too. Hu gave Sudan’s president a gentle lecture on the genocide in Darfur. Commentator Benjamin Barber says it’s a mistake to read too much into that. To hope that it might lead to tough American talk on China’s human rights record.
BENJAMIN BARBER: If America wants a peaceful and stable world in which capitalism can flourish and free markets can succeed, China holds the key.
Today, China needs us, we need China. But for a partnership to work, we have to understand that Tibet and Taiwan are for the Chinese not rights issues but national integrity issues. Not a reflection of Communist authoritarianism, but of an age-old Chinese fear of losing its grip on the “Three Ancient Kingdoms” of traditional China.
If we can grasp that, we can be the good guys in China as it inches its way towards greater openness and democracy. We can help the Chinese build a strong middle class and a broad safety net to help make capitalism stable and trade fair as well as free. For Chinese capitalism today faces many of the same challenges confronting American capitalism:
- Surging prosperity but increasing inequality;
- A public sector that can’t keep up with the social costs of the private sector — pollution, overdevelopment, oil dependency;
- An aging population whose needs outstrip the state’s resources;
- And a rabid hyperconsumerism.
And remember, economics impact stability: the growing inequalities between the 400 million people living in the modern coastal cities and the 900 million people living in the endless inland villages threaten not just capitalism but the integrity of the country.
What the Chinese most fear is neither freedom nor democracy, but disintegration. Reassure them about that, and they may be more accommodating than we might imagine.
But for this to happen, we cannot play games in the name of a misplaced rights doctrine. This will not only jeopardize our relations, but put at risk not only democracy in China, but the long-term stability of capitalism and free markets everywhere.
RYSSDAL: Benjamin Barber runs the non-profit Democracy Collaborative.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.