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Debate: Should the US use trade barriers to end China's human rights abuses?

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Revision as of 07:56, 4 December 2007

Should the United States use trade barriers to decrease human rights abuses in China?

Contents

Background and Context of Debate:

Since the end of the Cold War the trade versus human rights debate has been a major point of disagreement between American and China, and even between policymakers in the USA. Western politicians and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International allege that China engages in a host of systemic human rights abuses, including suppression of religious freedom and free speech, censoring of the internet, the use of slave labor, the torture of prisoners, and the forced relocation of millions of people for public works projects. Policymakers in the USA are divided over whether the best approach to force China to improve this situation is through trade, and with it general exposure to the West and the international order, which it is argued will liberalize China and improve overall living conditions there. Alternatively, is it preferable to use the threat of sanctions and isolation to force China to improve in order to become a preferred trading partner? While some of this debate has become less heated since China’s membership in the World Trade Organization, it is still a matter of bilateral US-China relations.

Punishing regimes?: Do sanctions act to punish regimes or do they have the effect of actually strengthening them?

Yes

Economic sanctions provide a means to symbolically punish and isolate bad regimes: They demonstrate to the international community what values a nation should stand for. The US refused to trade with Hitler or Pol Pot, why should it make excuses for China? Such a stand would solidify respect for the international order and is a moral obligation for policy makers in Washington.

No

Often economic sanctions help strengthen an authoritarian regime by causing a 'rally around the flag' effect: This only serves to legitimize and increase the power of the abusive and authoritarian leaders in question. The leader merely has to blame the outside power for the ongoing suffering to trigger a backlash against the outside power and support for the regime. Examples of this can be seen in North Korea and Cuba today, and in Iraq and South Africa in the past.

Wrong?: Is China performing egregious, and exceptional human rights violations worthy of sanctions?

Yes

Allowing the purchase of goods produced by slave labor is an endorsement of that labor, and wrong: China’s booming exports include goods produced by prisoners, including many sent to labor camps for political offences without fair trials. They are forced to labor unpaid in prison workshops and assembly lines. Buying products such as toys or electronic goods which were produced by slaves is effectively an endorsement and encouragement of that very enslavement.

No

There are no moral absolutes in international relations: Countries stand against one atrocity but not another one. Many are hypocritical.

  • China can point to cases in which the United States adopts the rhetoric of human rights while violating them in many ways: Guantanamo Bay’s prisoners and the “extraordinary rendition” of foreign terrorist suspects are examples of US double standards. Given this, how much are we prepared to hurt the US economy and American consumers by banning trade with every possible unpleasant regime?

Trade restrictions: Would sanctions in the form of restricted or cut-off trade be appropriate?

Yes

US money and goods should not be used to support human rights abuses committed by the government in China: For example, joint ventures with state-owned companies free up other Chinese government money to be spent on their systems of control and oppression. Companies like Google have accepted the Chinese government’s demands that they operate censorship on its behalf. The only way to ensure we do not become partners in oppression is to refuse to trade with China.

No

Trade is a human right: The ability to buy and sell freely involves the right to exercise choice and the right to control your own property free from interference. These rights are fundamental to being a human. Arbitrarily restricting a person’s right to trade is both unfair and unjust because it victimizes innocents who least deserve it, the lower class and those who are having their human rights violated to begin with. Economic sanctions and other forms of trade barriers are blunt instruments which punish innocent business people and their employees, in both China and the United States. The sanctions against Iraq were a prime example, only serving to kill innocent people and children by the thousands.

Effectiveness of sanctions: Would sanctioning China have the desired result of causing them to halt their human rights violations?

Yes

China depends on US trade, making the effects of any sanctions significant and likely to cause the desired human rights changes: The US is the largest single market in the world, and the largest importer in the world. The US does not need to trade with China to maintain its economic supremacy. Although the USA runs a trade deficit with China, it is China which needs the US most as an export market for its consumer goods. Without an entry into this huge market, and also access to US technical expertise and investment, China will not be able to sustain its rapid economic growth. Because the Chinese Communist Party relies upon this growth to give it legitimacy, and fears that a slowdown will generate unemployment and with it a rising tide of protest and calls for political change, the threat of sanctions can be used to press for human rights improvements.

No

China is a major regional power in Asia and becoming more so around the world: China trades with other sanctioned countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Sudan, and does not need to deal with the USA to retain its economic progress. So human rights abuses would occur anyway as China is able to trade with many other countries. Only by allowing trade can the US have leverage with China and spread its liberal values there. China may not need US trade, but it does value it and this gives a chance for American standards of liberty, democracy and human rights to be promoted within the country. US films, music, magazines and computer games are all popular in China, and these all spread a message of personal freedom and autonomy which undermines the authoritarian values of the regime. Personal interaction between American and Chinese citizens is also valuable in promoting democratic values and the concept of human rights, whether these are through business links, tourism or education (tens of thousands of Chinese students study at US universities each year). All of these contacts would be severely reduced if trade sanctions were put in place.

Write Subquestion here...

Yes

Trade with China helps fuel Chinese military might: Cutting trade helps reign in Chinese military modernization. China is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and one of the only countries capable of becoming a superpower any time soon. Limiting trade with China would slow its rise to superpower status and maintain US supremacy. This is especially important because under the Taiwan Relations Act the USA sells weapons to Taiwan which is in an arms race with China. Further Chinese military development risks war in the South China Sea between it and Taiwan, and the possibility that the United States could then be sucked into direct conflict with China.

No

Trade barriers with China harm the US economy more: The US and Chinese economies are tied in two major ways. First, the US and China do a massive amount of trading together, which makes trade relations between the two countries critical to economic stability and international security. Also, the Chinese hold a significant amount of US debt in the form of US Bonds. If angered, they could sell them off, which would cause a significant shock to the US economy with the prospect of recession.

Write Subquestion here...

Yes

It is wrong to place economics over human rights when weighing up the right foreign policy choices: Ultimately, World Trade Organisation membership should not restrict the United States’ freedom of action. WTO membership already carries a high price in preventing the US Administration from protecting American industries and farmers from unfair foreign competition, including dumping. As US jobs are increasingly outsourced abroad, it may be time to reconsider our membership of the WTO. Given the USA’s economic weight and friendly relations with developed democracies around the world, bilateral and regional trade deals could be a preferable alternative to the WTO.

No

Trade barriers against China would violate World Trade Organisation agreements and allow China to sue the US for violations: The United States had an opportunity to block Chinese membership of the WTO but chose not to object. Reversing US policy now would look inconsistent and will anger China much more than an original veto on WTO membership would have done. Such a change of course would also bow to the protectionist lobby within the United States, encouraging them to push for further steps against free trade. American prosperity rests upon free trade and should not be put at risk.

Write Subquestion here...

Yes

Upholding human rights is more important than ever for the United States of America: Some of the most important international issues relate to human rights, especially as the US is engaged in a global war against extremism/‘Islamofascism’ and needs to highlight the values that make America the ‘land of the free’. Without the moral high ground the US will lose the ‘War on Terror.’ Showing that American values are universal, and that the US is pursuing a consistent policy in support of human rights and democracy is critical at this time.

No

Economic sanctions on China harm US-Sino relations: China will perceive sanctions as containment, which will shatter the relationship. The US-China relationship is critical to solving a host of international issues, including proliferation, terrorism, and above all, human rights. China is taking an increasingly responsible role in international affairs, as its status as a Permanent member of the UN Security Council demands. For example, it is the key to coping with the threat posed by North Korea, and is also in a position to make or break US policy with regard to Iran. Given the USA’s global priorities, it cannot risk alienating China at this time.

References:

Motions:

  • China is more of a threat than an ally
  • The US has an obligation to pressure China into improving on their human rights record
  • The US should sanction China
  • This House would make trade with China dependent on improvements in human rights

In legislation, policy, and the real world:

See also on Debatepedia:

External links and resources:

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