China: sweet or sour?

Today, Farah and Martinez discuss the broad question of U.S. engagement with China. Later this week, they’ll debate killer toys, military threats, Olympic boycotts and more.

See the evil
By Joseph Farah

Dear Andrés,

It’s funny how some people see evil in the world selectively.

They can see it in apartheid, but not in communism. They can see fascism for what it was in Nazi Germany, but not in today’s China. They can see threats to life, liberty and property coming from George W. Bush and the Republicans, but not from nuclear-armed tyrants being subsidized by greedy U.S. corporations that would sell their American souls, if they had any, to make a fast buck.

Let’s start with the foundation that more people have been murdered in the name of Chinese Communism than for any other cause in the history of the world.

Unfortunately, today’s American history books pay little attention to this uncomfortable fact — maybe because so many of them are printed in China by those avaricious U.S. corporations and because our public schools are run by the National Education Assn., which would, if it could, turn the U.S. into a socialist workers paradise along the Beijing model.

Of course, we’re told that China has “reformed” since the days of Mao Tse-tung. Most of those making that case, however, were 40 years ago gleefully quoting from the Little Red Book and wearing made-in-China buttons of the genocidal maniac.

Let’s look at China today from the perspective of those forced, and I use that word advisedly, to live there.

Citizens of China must get permission from state authorities to have more than one child. Forced abortions are still a reality for those couples who defy the law. As a result, China today has far more boys and men than girls and women. Why? Because if a couple can have only one child, they prefer it to be a boy. As a result, unborn female babies are aborted at a much higher rate, and some female infants are killed at birth to stay within the draconian laws of this perverse tyrannical state.

Chinese subjects work where they are told and for the wages they are offered. That’s because in a workers’ paradise there is no need for unions independent of the government. So Beijing forbids them— locking up activists who dare to attempt to organize them.

We needn’t worry about this debate being read in China, because the government doesn’t recognize the most fundamental right to free expression and keeps a tight lid on what can be accessed on the Internet, thanks to partnerships with search engines like Google who do the regime’s dirty work in exchange for corporate favors.

There’s also no religious freedom in China, which means even the most private and personal thoughts of the people are considered the state’s business.

You may have read recently that China has begun recognizing the most fundamental principle of private property ownership. What many in the West missed, however, was that Beijing still regards all land as owned by the government. As the author of a book on property rights, I can tell you the very concept of private property is meaningless without the right to own the land beneath it. And remember, this new untested law, under debate for 19 years, merely provides lip service to private property. The laws on the books in China have long guaranteed freedom of religion, even when there is none.

I began this debate by invoking the term “fascism,” which is a very accurate description of China today. Fascism, socialism and communism all favor — to one degree or another — government control of production and distribution. The only thing that distinguishes fascism from socialism in economic theory is how the government gets that control.

Fascists realize the government doesn’t need to own industry to control it. Through regulation and taxation, fascists know they can achieve the same results without nearly as much work and responsibility. The “economic reforms” we have seen taking place in China for the last few decades are not reforms at all. They are actually moves away from the inefficiency and outright failure of communism to fascism — which, according to the American Heritage New Dictionary definition of the term, does not require state ownership of the means of production. This is the single biggest difference between the two extreme forms of totalitarianism. I can understand why corporate titans, with no sense of personal morality and no conscience, can justify their investments and partnerships with China. I can understand their desire to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil with regard to this emerging giant on the world scene. I can understand why those chasing a quick buck might pretend China is something it is not.

What I can’t understand is why journalists, whose very living is a byproduct of human rights and freedom, would turn a blind eye to the reality of China’s brutal reign over its 1 billion subjects — not to mention the threat it poses in the future to our own lives and liberty.

Joseph Farah is the Washington-based founder and editor of and the author of the new book, “Stop the Presses! The Inside Story of the New Media Revolution.” He is the former editor in chief of the Sacramento Union and served as executive news editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner for six years.

Acknowledge that things have changed
By Andrés Martinez

Dear Joseph,

Where to begin? First off, let’s agree to agree about the evils of teachers unions in this country. You get no argument from me there.

Luckily for our readers, we’re arguing about China, not U.S. education.

And on the Middle Kingdom, Joseph, you really paint a static portrait that is not in tune with reality. Yes, Mao ranks up there with Hitler and Stalin in the pantheon of 20th century megalomaniacs responsible for the deaths of tens of millions. But it’s bizarre to argue that we — the royal “we” that includes our government and U.S. corporations — should not do business with China because of China’s historical sins.

For starters, the place really has changed. You bizarrely shrug off anyone who makes this obvious point as being folks “who were 40 years ago gleefully quoting from the Little Red Book and wearing made-in-China buttons of the genocidal maniac.”

Don’t know where you are going with that, but I would note that China changed dramatically under the stewardship of Deng Xiaoping and many like-minded communists who were in fact persecuted during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. These leaders were no saints — the blood of Tiananmen Square is on their hands, and China remains an undemocratic nation with a heinous human rights record — but it’s an inexcusably ahistorical notion to talk of the China of Deng and Jiang Zemin as if it were still the China of the Great Leap Forward. It would be akin to Ronald Reagan saying he wasn’t going to negotiate arms control deals with the U.S.S.R.'s Mikhail Gorbachev because of Stalin’s forced collectivization.

Deng’s decision to open up China’s economy to the outside world in the mid-1980s flowed naturally from the normalization of ties fostered earlier by Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. I suppose you’d prefer we’d never compromised our morals by talking or doing business with those thugs in Beijing; we can have an exchange next week about the wisdom of such an approach. Meet me on location in Havana for that one. Cuba, unlike China, has hardly changed in the last 40 years, but you must be happy about that because no American companies or politicians can be blamed for making the compromises inherent in operating in the real world.

The truth is, hundreds of millions of people live far better lives today as a result of the transformation of the People’s Republic in the last quarter of a century, a transformation aided and abetted by the heartless U.S. corporations you bash. Millions in the countryside are no longer a step away from starvation, and a fledgling middle class dominates the consumerist cultures in the coastal cities.

I spent the summer of 1985 in Beijing, and China then, on the eve of Deng’s “Four Modernizations” was a lot closer to being the country you describe. People’s danwei, or work units, dominated every aspect of an individual’s daily life. The danwei was the most basic, intrusive building block of communist control, enforcing the “one child only” policy and dictating what job you could have, where you could live and whether you could marry someone.

Last year, back in Beijing for the first time since that long-ago summer, I asked all sorts of people whether the danwei continued to control their lives. I might as well have been asking about the Spanish Inquisition; people looked at me as if I were a visitor from the Middle Ages. For all intents and purposes, the danwei is no more. Chinese today have much more freedom in their daily lives — to live where they want, travel, marry whomever they want, and to go work for the private employer of their choice.

I think you also overestimate how hard it is for Chinese to access foreign material on the Web. People last year were obsessed about a new reality TV show that was a lot like our “Apprentice” show with Donald Trump, except in the Chinese version the winners didn’t merely become someone’s hired hand, they became entrepreneurs whose businesses’ seed capital was provided by the show. There is also an increasingly dynamic civil society, with private groups forming to advocate for the environment and to protest public corruption at the local and provincial level (taking on the national government is still not allowed, obviously).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that the Chinese are as free as we are; they clearly aren’t. But most Chinese appreciate that they enjoy far more freedom than they ever remember having, while the Communist Party has kept the country stable. The state’s sphere keeps shrinking at the expense of the individual’s sphere, and the leadership’s grand bargain with the citizenry can be boiled down to this: “We’ll give you steady 10% annual growth (no Argentina-like recessions here) and let you be free to go about your business so long as you don’t question our monopolizing political power.”

I’ll be the first to admit that this is frustrating. It’s annoying to me — as an American-trained lawyer and journalist — that more people in China (and plenty of other countries) aren’t “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,” to cite a movie you can surely buy a pirated copy of on the streets of Shanghai. But again, one reason that is the case is that most Chinese are enjoying plenty of newly acquired freedoms, and the verdict is still out on whether the government will be able to continue managing the citizenry’s expanding expectations over time.

Against that backdrop, what should we do, Joseph? You rail about the communist behemoth, and against all our heartless corporations that do business with it, but I don’t see what your alternative universe would look like. Again, would you like a Cuba-like embargo placed on China? Regime change?

It’s not always satisfying in the short term, but our long-term engagement of Beijing, our coaxing its communist leaders into ever greater interdependence with the outside world, has reaped tremendous dividends for the people of China and for global peace and stability. (In terms of its material deprivations and paranoid outlook, in your parallel universe would Beijing look like Pyongyang?)

You seem to write off all liberalization in China as merely a move from communism to fascism. I’ll leave the labeling to you, but suffice it to say that under your definition, a lot of the world looks quite fascist these days. And as to your larger suggestion that totalitarian systems are immutable, I have two words to offer: Jeanne Kirkpatrick. She was wrong on this point, as are you.

Finally, I should defend fellow journalists, whom you accuse of ignoring Chinese realities. I don’t know what publications you read, but the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have won Pulitzer Prizess in the last two years for their courageous coverage of plenty that is rotten in China, and Mark Magnier and other correspondents for this newspaper have also acquitted themselves with honor. I do worry that the Journal under Rupert Murdoch may start pulling its punches if News Corp. prioritizes its other business interests in China, and that’s something we should all keep an eye on.

In the meantime, Joseph, have some kung pao chicken today in honor of Deng Xiaoping, the reformer from Sichuan province — land of spicy food.


Andrés Martinez, a former editor of The Times’ editorial page, is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.

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