This spring two more large U.S. firms—Mobil and Goodyear—pulled out of South Africa. Their withdrawal represents a victory for those whose understandable rage at the injustice of apartheid is expressed in a desire to cut all trade with South Africans.
But that desire is misguided. Given the political forces at work in South Africa, an economic breakdown would likely bring to power the far right who want to restore strict segregation—people who would not hesitate to mow down civilian protesters in the Chinese fashion.
Peaceful change is far more likely to come to South Africa by the continued progress of black economic empowerment, as reported in these pages last month. (See "Quiet Revolution," July.) Millions of upwardly mobile black entrepreneurs, skilled workers, and managers—who are also a huge consumer market—are the key to bringing about legal and political equality.
This is the same process that has begun to occur in China. And it has been fostered by the rapid increase in Western trade and tourism over the past decade. The thousands of Chinese studying in America and bringing our libertarian values back with them; the steady diet of Hong Kong television and consumer products; the explosive growth of fax machines; the obvious rewards of enterprise and entrepreneurship—all this has had major social and political consequences in China, which have not been wiped out by the tanks in Tiananmen Square.
The Bush administration acted very wisely in cutting off only military aid to the Chinese government—but leaving economic interactions free to continue. We can only hope that this policy will be applied to other countries, as well.
Extensive economic and social interactions with free societies will have similar positive effects in South Africa. Instead of sanctions and disinvestment, we should encourage American investment, travel, and tourism in repressive societies. With our fax machines and PCs and MTV, we will liberate South Africa—and eventually, China and Russia, too.