International Relations and Security Network, 26 June, 2014
At a recent state dinner in London for visiting People’s Republic of China (PRC) Premier Li Keqiang, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made a number of undiplomatic comments, saying that the people of China were “politically shackled” to a communist one-party state guilty of human rights abuses. Unsurprisingly, given this government’s economic drive, Downing Street distanced itself from the statement, with Michael Fallon, the business minister, saying that human rights should not “get in the way” of trade links. Instead, UK Inc. reported that BP and Shell were due to announce multi-billion dollar deals with PRC oil companies. Indeed, investment from the entire visit by the PRC delegation was said to be worth more than 18 billion pounds. That, it seemed, was that.
Until recently, the policy approach of many Western nations towards the PRC has been based on a singular assumption. This assumption was that the West would do business with an authoritarian regime because it was thought that engagement would change the nature of that regime. In simple terms, trade would change the PRC from within, by building a middle class. The Clinton White House was the first to translate this assumption into policy – in 1994, Clinton delinked trade from advances in human rights and political reform, and, in addition to giving China most favored nation (MFN) status, signed a trade deal in 1999, which helped China accede to the World Trade Organization. The Americans were not alone. Japan, Taiwan, ROK and many EU states like Germany, the UK, and France encouraged trade ties with the seemingly reform-minded authoritarian regime. Many billions of dollars were injected into the country.
So far, business has been good…
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