Why China is on our side

I went to a talk the other day about China…the Olympics…human rights…Darfur recently. Here’s what struck me:

Some people see the world divided up into two teams. On one side, there’s the dictatorships and their tyrannical leaders (sturdy Kim Jong Il in goal); on the other there’s the democracies (George Bush marooned on the right flank).

Internally, the division makes sense. So calling China a dictatorship gets at the brutal way the Chinese regime treats its own people. When it comes to foreign policy, however, the black-and-white view can only be misleading.

Democracies make cruel and nasty foreign policy just as effectively as dictatorships. The history of American colonialism in Latin America show this all too clearly. So does the behaviour of Britain and France after WWI, as Pankaj Mishra said recently in the LRB: “in Paris, Lloyd George and Clemenceau demonstrated that leaders of democracies could be just as brazenly imperialistic as military dictators”.

China’s human rights record is related to its foreign policy – but the link is not nearly as important as some people (alright, Nick Cohen) would have you think.

In this case, as so often, black-and-white thinking is simply muddle-headed. For all the wrong reasons, China is already on our team.


West Wing reference: Series 7, “Internal Displacement”; after a dinner date with Danny, C. J. decides to sort out Darfur.


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