Thursday, July 19, 2007

How much is free trade with China worth?

In the past, I've been cautiously supportive of a free trade agreement with China, on the grounds that we can both use it to extract some concessions from the Chinese government on human rights, and establish a pattern linking trade with human rights. But over the past few years, I've come to think that the price of that agreement is just too high. For those who haven't reached that conclusion yet, perhaps they should look at the price we are paying, and ask themselves whether it is worth it:

  • Is it worth our silence? Fear of upsetting the Chinese and derailing the deal has resulted in New Zealand remaining silent on the gross human rights abuses happening in China - abuses we would criticise if they happened, say, in Zimbabwe or Sudan or Burma, but which we close our eyes to for fear of upsetting the Chinese authorities.
  • Is it worth our freedom? The Chinese government carries out minor human rights abuses right here in New Zealand, as embassy officials work to monitor, silence, and undermine their critics.
  • Is it worth our complicity? Our eagerness for a deal has seen New Zealand officials cooperate in the above - for example in the eviction of journalist Nick Wong from Parliament, the banning of Falun Gong from Wellington City Council funded events, and of course Jenny Shipley's infamous blocking of protestors from public view.
  • Is it worth the kidnapping and rendition of a New Zealander? Because that's apparently what the Chinese government did, right here in Auckland in 2005. Naturally, the government's reactionis low key, because they Don't Want To Upset The Chinese.

People unpersuaded by the last one should ask themselves how many of our lives they're willing to sacrifice to a totalitarian regime in order for our ultra-rich to make more money. Ten? A hundred? A thousand? Are they willing to see us tortured, or killed so that our organs can be harvested as well? Because that's what they're supporting.

As for me, I was persuaded long ago, and this simply seals it: the cost of a free trade deal with China is simply too high.