Over One Billion Disserved

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Nearly four years ago, eight young Chinese adults gathered to talk politics and form something called the New Study Youth Group. It wasn't much of a big deal; the original group never actually met again. Still, as detailed in this harrowing Washington Post account, all eight had their lives mangled by the Chinese government.

Three and a half years later, four members of the study group are in prison, serving sentences of eight or 10 years on subversion charges. Two are free but living with the shame of implicating the others when interrogated by police. And Li has fled to Thailand, where one recent afternoon he leafed through some of his reports and struggled to explain why he became an informer and betrayed his friends.

Read the whole depressing tale here. (Link via G.A. Cerny)

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  1. Jennifer should be along any moment now to tell us how this is EXACTLY LIKE GITMO.

  2. Sad, very sad. Here’s an interesting article I was reminded of about China…

    http://www.nationalreview.com/derbyshire/derbyshire200311100951.asp

  3. Is Li a villian? How is someone supposed to know right from wrong in a society like that?

    The outraged wife drives home the evil of the system, and tells Li she hates him for not defying the system, is the same person who repeatedly told her husband to stop defying the system, jump on the bandwagon, and get rich.

    joe, looking forward to the next discussion about Chinese workers freely choosing to march into the Nike factory.

  4. And these barbarians have Most Favored Nation status?

  5. And these barbarians have Most Favored Nation status?

    It’s good for our economy.

    Morally, it’s a little questionable. The empirical evidence does seem to suggest that the results have, overall, been positive for the Chinese people, though.

  6. China has to change. The question is how to bring it about. Constructive engagement is usually the best answer, but the question becomes how long.

  7. “The empirical evidence does seem to suggest that the results have, overall, been positive for the Chinese people, though.”

    I’m having trouble with this question. Yes, the poverty-stricken Chinese people have seen a greater increase in their economic position than if the country had been isolated from internation trade. But consider the opportunity cost – has that increase in material wealth served as a pressure valve for the Chinese public’s dissatisfaction with their oppressors, and delayed the day of its overthrow?

  8. Forget the morality of our giving these people favorable trading status; ultimately I think it will be self-destructive.

    Harold Bloom, in his book “The Lucifer Principle,” made a convincing case that America is in decline, similar to Victorian England in the 1890s. Mr. Bloom is also of the opinion that when the US no longer qualifies as the most powerful nation in the world, China is most likely to fill the vacuum.

    Assuming that this is true, is it not a matter of self-preservation to try and have China become more democratic, or at least more committed to hman rights, BEFORE they assume the military and cultural status that America enjoyed in the second half of the 20th century? Not just for our own sakes, but for all of humanity.

    Oh, and Phil–your lack of partisanship shines like a beacon through a thick political fog.

  9. Phil-
    After reading a news story about Ahmed al-Halabi, the Air Force translator under suspicion of spying, I’ve just realized that there’s at least one HUGE difference between Gitmo prisoners and these poor folks in China–we know the names of the Chinese prisoners, but the names of the Gitmo detainees is classified information; nobody is allowed to know who’s there.

  10. I can conceive of reasons for which the names do need to be classified, although I think that the ambassadors or delegates from the countries in which they are citizens should be given that information. Other than that, a list of names is hardly dispositive towards anything. I’m more concerned with what happens to them than with who they are.

  11. Both Phil and Jennifer posted only once. Apparently things sometimes do improve.

  12. Jennifer, I’ll give you $100 dollars if you can guess who I voted for in the last four presidential elections. If you can’t, you’ve got no business calling me a partisan. I’ll give you a hint, though: None of them were named “Bush,” nor were members of the Republican party.

  13. Why is there so much shit thrown in Jennifer’s direction? It’s almost impossible to read a comment-thread here without somebody insulting Jennifer in the first ten-to-twenty posts or so.

    I realize I’m a very occasional poster (even though I read this blog religiously), and so this is likely to go ignored… but is it absolutely necessary to take potshots at Jennifer whenever possible? I mean, she’s not Raimondo.

    Also, while I’m totally thread-hijacking, whatever happened to “Lefty” and “Lazarus Long”?

  14. has that increase in material wealth served as a pressure valve for the Chinese public’s dissatisfaction with their oppressors, and delayed the day of its overthrow?

    I don’t think it has, no. Historically, people who are just barely getting by don’t rebel. People who are *starving* will rebel out of simple desperation, but generally speaking a rebellion needs some sort of middle class — a demographic group with the wealth and power to force changes. In my opinion, our best bet is to encourage the formation of a dissatisfied middle class in China.

  15. Harold Bloom, in his book “The Lucifer Principle,” made a convincing case that America is in decline, similar to Victorian England in the 1890s.

    Interestingly enough, writers were also making a convincing case that America was in decline… during the 1890s. And the 1900s, the 1910s, 1920s, etc. There are always people convinced that society is going Straight To Hell (possible In A Handbasket), and there are always people willing to listen to that first group of people.

    Mr. Bloom is also of the opinion that when the US no longer qualifies as the most powerful nation in the world, China is most likely to fill the vacuum.

    That’s amazingly unlikely. In the event of a collapse of the United States (and, for the sake of argument, Europe), the next major power would be India, not China. India is approximately as big as China, MUCH richer and better-educated, capitalist, and democratic — and has nuclear weapons, to keep the Chinese behaving nicely. In a contest between China and India, India wins hands-down.

  16. How much US taxpayer money goes to subsidize trade with China? The IMF? World Bank? Dept. of Commerce? That agency that pays for infrastructure in foreign countries on behalf of corporations?(Kevin Carson knows the name) What other taxpayer subsidizations?

    How many of these taxpayer’s dollars go to prop up the Chinese government monsters?

    It’s probably true that freer markets with private ownership are a liberating force in China. Actual free markets are a liberation in of themselves. But, forced subsidization of trade surely forces the taxpayer to finance Chinese government tyranny as well.

    And, let us not forget the Chinese government’s savage occupation of Tibet where, btw, they are now using “fighting terror” as an excuse for a continued, ruthless crack down on the resistance:

    http://www.tibet.ca/wtnarchive/1997/3/6_3.html

    Also, not having the US government subsidize trade allows US citizens greater leverage in putting economic pressure, via publicity or boycott or the threat of same, on concerns that do business in China; pressure on behalf of those victimized by Chinese government tyranny.

  17. I’m having trouble with this question. Yes, the poverty-stricken Chinese people have seen a greater increase in their economic position than if the country had been isolated from internation trade. But consider the opportunity cost – has that increase in material wealth served as a pressure valve for the Chinese public’s dissatisfaction with their oppressors, and delayed the day of its overthrow?

    Even if that were the case, would that make it legitimate to isolate them? Isolating a country as a way of keeping that country’s military weak is one thing, but what you’re proposing is using the people of China as hostages: overthrow your government or we’ll starve you.

    In other words, I see a big difference between “We’ll keep you from getting oil so you can’t fuel your tanks” and “We’ll keep you from getting oil so that people can’t drive so they can’t work so they’ll be so upset that they revolt.”

    And as a practical matter, when has your proposal ever worked? We’ve isolated Cuba for decades, and it hasn’t led to Castro’s downfall. North Korea is one of the most isolated countries on earth, and yet even though the country is in awful shape, the regime still stands.

  18. When has constructive engagement ever worked? We opened up trade with the dictators in Imperial Japan, and they became richer, more dangerous dictators. The new middle class styled themselves as modern samurai, and that’s where the greatest support for the regime came from.

    Oh, and I’m not proposing anything. Just questioning. Though you’re right about one thing; all else being equal, we should have open trade to make ourselves and the Chinese richer. However, is all else equal, and is trading by the Beijing regime’s rules actually making the Chinese people as a whole richer?

  19. Joe-
    Yes and no. The average Chinese person is as broke as ever. Of course, there are plenty of statistics showing that average wealth is increasing in the country, just as the average income on your street would jump sky-high if Bill Gates moved next door. Of course, you personally would have no more money than you did before, and neither do the Chinese.

    Did you ever read PJ O’Rourke’s book “Eat the Rich?” The section where he describes modern Shanghai is terrifying, and downright surreal. The one thing I remembered was his observation that the city, so far as he could tell, had no cats, no dogs, no pigeons; as he put it, “The protein is missing.”

  20. I don’t think that an economic embargo would do anything to free the Chinees people. It would just piss them off, and make the Europeans richer for not having us as competition.

    The embargo in Cuba hasn’t done shit. The embargo on Iraq, just caused the deaths of many civilians. I am very skeptical of embargos. Why don’t we just trate with them and offer our advise, and help any dissidents as non confrontationally as we can?

    We can act like hardasses when they try to mess with Taiwan, or when they try to intimidate or take away the liberties of people outside their country.

  21. Dan, China’s GDP is currently more than twice that of India, and it’s literacy rate is about 15% higher. Furthermore, while China’s more developed regions now have a highly modern public infrastructure, much of India’s is only slightly better than sub-Saharan Africa’s.

    And the question of which country is more captialistic is in the eye of the beholder. Yes, less of India’s economy is now in the grips of state-owned enterprises, but its tariffs are generally higher, and if you ask any multinational which country it’s easier to do business in, the answer will inevitably be China.

    Don’t get me wrong; I think India has been turning a corner as of late, and the fact that most of its economic growth has come without the involvement of foreign investment or government support suggests that it may outperform China over the long run, all the moreso if China’s transation to a more representative form of government brings about major social tensions. But by virtually every standard of socioeconomic development save for that of political systems, China is currently ahead.

  22. Jennifer, as soon as I read the post beginning, “Yes and no,” I knew it had to be another liberal. 🙂

    kwais, “embargo?” C’mon, no one’s suggesting we use the Navy to barricade the China Sea.

    Eric, the mindset that considers the ease with which multinational corporations can “do business” to be an indicator of the well being of the working class is part of the problem with “the Washington (and Beijing) Consensus.”

  23. Joe-
    Us libs are so fucking predictable, huh?

  24. Shortly after 9/11, President Bush endorsed China’s supression of Muslim independence activists in Xinjian Provence as part of the war on terror.

  25. Joe, I never drew any relationship between those two issues. I was dealing specifically with the question of whether India’s economy is more “capitalist” than China’s, nothing more.

    But since you brought it up, it’s hard not to conclude that in material aspects at least, the Chinese working class appears to be better off at this point than its Indian counterpart. Whether you’re talking about basic amenities like the availability of electricity and clean water, or access to creature comforts like TVs, mobile phones, and washing machines, China’s percentages are higher nearly across the board. And I suspect the fact that scores of multinationals have put enormous sums of money into the country and collectively hired millions of Chinese has something to do with it.

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