Of all the things I have mused about over the past two and a half weeks concerning the truly awful things the People’s Republic of China has done, I saved this one for the last. China exports a lot of products. It’s not clear whether it “dumps” products or it really has a great competitive advantage over western industrial countries.
China exports its people, largely illicitly, and is a major transshipment point in the international slave trade. China is also a producer and transshiper of drugs. Both of these exports — slaves and drugs — represent a significant fraction of the global market in these dangerous, destructive, and contraband products. We ought not to condemn the government of the PRC, because it does not turn a blind eye to slavers or drug dealers — it actively polices for these things and when it catches bad guys, the PRC just plain kills them.
But here’s the focus — one of China’s biggest exports is weapons, and the weapons trade in China is directly with the government of the PRC, not with autonomous corporations within the country.
No western industrial nation can really criticize China for entering the world arms market — everyone sells weapons, and nearly everyone sells weapons to other nations that probably ought not be trusted with anything more dangerous than a pointy stick. The United States is not immune from criticism with regards to the nations that we allow our arms manufacturers to do business with, although I think we’re better than a lot of other nations in that regard.
I say that because compared to the PRC, we’re a bunch of prissy angels with regards to our choice of trading partners. China’s most controversial export is not weapons, but rather the support for genocide and other human rights abuses it extends to other nations.
The most prominent beneficiary of direct Chinese foreign aid to support a government engaged in human rights atrocities is the government of Sudan. To be sure, China sells weapons to Sudan, and is by far the biggest supplier of weapons to the government there. China’s government defends itself by noting that other nations sell weapons to Sudan also and that it has expressed “grave concerns” about the genocide in Darfur. Because that’s what the government is doing with those weapons — putting them in the hands of its death squads and technically non-governmental militia groups, who then raid villages in Darfur and practice, if not wholesale extermination, then the systematic eradication of undesirable ethnic and religious groups.
“Grave concerns.” Thanks, comrade.
Similarly, China has been untroubled by the uses to which its weapons are put in Zimbabwe, where minority and political opposition groups proposing an end to the rule of 28-year dictator Robert Mugabe have been on the receiving end of secret police squads Chinese-manufactured small arms as well as mortar shells and hand-held rocket launchers.
China’s relationship with North Korea is complex, but it is not an oversimplification to say that the nations are allies. They have been allied in the past, however, and there is still a degree of geopolitical affinity between the PRC and the DPRK, two of the last remaining overtly socialist governments on Earth. Although North Korea imposes a regime of even greater brutality and cruelty than the PRC does on its own people, the styles and techniques of the two nations are similar and truly differ only as a matter of degree in terms of their focus on monopolizing political control of the nation through the deployment of force and terror upon the civilian population. China has until recently tolerated the presence of a large underclass of North Korean workers; China and North Korea share a trading relationship analogous to that of the U.S. and Mexico. China is a significant donor of unconditional food grants to North Korea; it is likely that without this food support, North Korea’s extraordinarily poor and inefficient economy would be unable to feed millions of people and there would be mass starvation — at the same time, because the food supports are there, the DPRK can concentrate its economic efforts (such as they are) to maintaining a large military. China also sells North Korea about 90% of its oil at vastly under-market prices. China does appear to be working in good faith to encourage North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, although it is an open question if China’s economic support for its neighbor is not the most significant enabling factor allowing Lil’ Kim to chase nukes.
I should also add that although we are technically allied with Pakistan in the Global War On Terror, China’s biggest trading partner, co-developer of military equipment, and strategic ally has a significant history of internal human rights abuses and nuclear brinksmanship with rival India. Pakistan would not be so dangerous or obnoxious a regional power were it not for substantial support from China. If so, this represents at minimum a significant bending, if not outright violation, of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
I feel compelled to repeat myself with two important caveats. First of all, selling weapons is not necessarily a bad thing for a nation to do. The sale of weapons to other nations can be a good way to spread stability by putting military power in the hands of nations that will use it responsibly and that will become strong, reliable, and reasonably moral members of the international community. And second, the USA has in the past sold weapons to nations who have not lived up to their promises of responsible use of those weapons. What distinguishes us from China in this respect is that when it has become clear that our trading partners are not behaving responsibly with the weapons we have sold them — El Salvador, Chile, the contras — we have passed laws to prevent the further sale of weapons to these nations. Similar statements can be made of most European nations (although I have some doubts about the French).
China cannot credibly offer a similar defense of its weapons trade. China sells weapons knowing full well that they will be used to effect genocide, nuclear brinksmanship, and terrorism. The People’s Republic is at best unconcerned with what happens in other nations, and why should it be? Like Spartans deathly afraid of their Helots, the Chinese government treats its own people as so much livestock, worrisome mouths to feed and minds to control so that there is no revolution. So the product of its highly profitable weapons sales program does not cause a moment’s moral concern in Beijing — the worst that could happen is that other nations will treat their citizens the way China treats its own.