Rebuttal to "The China Syndrome"

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Posted by on April 07, 2000 at 02:08:36:

As someone who has spent many years studying the negative effects of globalization, has participated in campaigns against the World Bank, and been a long-time activist in the Tibet movement, I feel compelled to write you in regards to your article "The China Syndrome."

I would like to say first off how much it pains me to hear you say that my colleagues and I who work to create change within China are attempting to hijack the movement. All I can tell you is that this is not our intent at all.

In your article, you speak of a unified movement that was "in Seattle to protest transnational corporations, and the oppressive economic order they have set up." You say that "a few officials of the AFL-CIO and some non-governmental organizations decided on their own to subvert the growing internationalist movement with a China-bashing litany of accusations." You make it sound as if my friends and I are sitting in dark rooms plotting to subvert the entire leftist movement in America. Quite the opposite. the Tibet movement has been on the forefront of campaigns against the world bank and against oil companies that exploit indigenous peoples, and for several years we have been intimately involved in the discussion on the evils the globalization. All of the Tibet movement's primary activists (who are not, as you may believe, CIA or U.S. government-funded) were in Seattle, and, in fact, helped lay the groundwork for much of the protest that happened there.

The problem is not that the Tibet movement is trying to subvert the left, but rather that the left does not know how to deal with the Tibet movement. The left seems unable to realize that globalization and oppression are not carried out solely by Western powers. They are usually the result of Western powers collaborating with oppressive regimes in developing nations like China. Much of the globalization that we decry would not be possible if it weren't for the cooperation and compliance (and often eager pandering) of the rulers of developing nations. But the left is entirely focused on American and European imperialism, and can't seem to grasp that there are other imperialistic nations in the world, and that the elites of China and the U.S. have more in common with each other than one might realize.

The people of Tibet and China are suffering tremendously from direct oppression and from the results of globalization. Unfortunately China—who still maintains the shell of a socialist structure even though their government is constantly paving the way for Nike and McDonald's to set up shop on every corner and is taking full advantage of an 8 million strong prison labor force to supply U.S. companies with cheap labor—has become something of a symbol for the left. It has become a symbol of a developing power standing up to U.S. imperialism. And its government leaders use this as a rallying cry, taking the stance of a poor nation brutalized by the West, and decrying the U.S. for interfering in its internal affairs. Meanwhile, Jiang Zemin is happy to raise his champagne glass to Boeing at the signing of a multi-billion dollar trade deal or to set up a joint venture between BP Amoco and China National Petroleum Corporation to install a gas pipeline that will drain a significant portion of the Tibetan plateau's natural resources.

I find it tremendously unnerving that the left has been so successfully duped by the Chinese government. Eager young American activists, who've never been to China, never met Tibetan victims of torture, never thoroughly researched the Chinese governments business deals with U.S. corporations, are siding with the same corrupt leaders that they're protesting against at home. Chinese government leaders and Western oil companies make billions of dollars off the same exploitative business deal, but yet somehow only the oil company is to blame. Leftists read Chinese government books that tell them that everyone was smiling and happy under Chairman Mao, and at the same time they decry the Western media for its cover-ups.

Isn't it possible that both the U.S. and Chinese governments are guilty of crimes? Isn't it possible that the elites of China are making a quick buck of their own people just like the U.S. is? Isn't it possible that the people of Tibet, who make the arduous trek over the himalayas by the thousands every year, have a reason for leaving? But no, the left would rather label the Tibetans as counter-revolutionaries, the left would rather say that Tibetans deserved to be conquered, that Tibetans were feudal, or backward, and desperately needed to be liberated by a caring army of utopian agrarian peasants. The left is a friend of the oppressed, but only as long as those who are oppressed conform to some grandiose ideology that has no basis in reality.

I believe in free medical care and state subsidized education; if anything I lean towards socialism more than anything else; my grandmother is a socialist and I was raised in that environment. But to hold China up on a pedestal is ridiculous. China is not an example of functional socialism. Your idealism of the PRC's political system can only lead me to conclude that you have never been there. China is no longer a communist nation, they are as Capitalist as they come. How many average Chinese citizens share your ideals of class solidarity? since Deng Xiaoping proclaimed "to get rich is glorious" socialist values have gone out the window and corruption, individualism, and a desire to get rich quick are about the only principles that are left in China.

As for the Chinese state-run Union, I have done thorough investigative research on this with the help of my friends at the China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong based paper that exposed the exploitation of Chinese workers at Nike and Reebok factories, the devastating fires that took the lives of thousands of Chinese female garment workers, and the detention of labor activists within China. This paper, incidentally, was forced to shut down when Hong Kong was handed back to China because it wasn't a state-sanctioned paper. I can guarantee you that no reports of worker detentions and the awful conditions of Nike's plants in China have been reported on by China's state-run newspapers. Why? Because the Chinese government has been in bed with Nike for years. They've been in bed with U.S. run aid agencies and oil companies for years as well. China is the #1 borrower of funds from the World Bank. The U.S. did not force them to embrace Starbucks and McDonalds. They did it of their own accord.

The State Run Labor Union in China does not allow for free association, has no effective means to handle worker complaint, and more often than not acts as a vehicle to inform Public Security Forces when workers are acting up. The argument that "the multiplicity of local organizations and societies in China is more profoundly democratic than the two-party political system in the U.S." is rather baffling. I'm no fan of the two-party system, but I prefer it to a one party system that could have me imprisoned for writing this letter or shot in the back of the head for tax evasion.

Your vision of China as the helpless victim of western imperialism is totally outdated. And the idea that the focus of the movement—whatever that movement is—should only be on western oppressors is oversimplified. Oppressed people, East Timorese, Tibetans, Burmese, Native Americans, etc. are not privy to our endless debates on ideology. They do not have the luxury to define themselves as belonging to this type of political ideology or that. They are desperate. They will take any chance they can to speak out against their oppressors. Why should they not be protesting in Seattle, where the very leaders that are responsible for their torture are cutting business deals with Bill Clinton? Why should they not be in DC, where the World Bank will be discussing the forced settlement of people into their native lands?

The problem is that the left is too focused on finding good guys and bad guys and not focused enough on dealing with the realities of current global situations. The reality is that there are tremendous problems in the U.S., tremendous problems in China, and tremendous problems throughout the world. All of these problems deserve attention, and all of the people who are suffering under brutal regimes, U.S. based or otherwise, have a right to protest these problems, whether or not they fit into some leftists view of the world.

If you truly seek to create a better society, then I would encourage you to listen to the people that are victimized by world governments and policies, and ask them what they want, rather than trying to dictate what their agenda should be.

Finally, I'd like to make it clear that I'm no friend of Pat Buchanan or right-wing China bashers. I find their agenda as deplorable as you do. But to lump together all those who seek improvements in the Chinese government's conduct is unfair; its no different than the American media who labeled all the Seattle protesters anarchists. It is a disservice to the good work that is being done and it is a gross oversimplification.

See you in DC, where the Tibetan flag will be flying high,

Josh Schrei

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