Dangerous Liaisons: Progressives, the
Right, and the Anti-China Trade Campaign
by Walden Bello and Anuradha Mittal*
Like the United States, China is a country that is full of
contradictions. It is certainly not a country that can be summed up as "a rogue
nation that decorates itself with human rights abuses as if they were medals of
honor." This characterization by AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney joins environmentalist
Lester Brown's Cassandra-like warnings about the Chinese people in hitting a new low in
the rhetoric of the Yellow Peril tradition in American populist politics. Brown accuses
the Chinese of being the biggest threat to the world's food supply because they are
climbing up the food chain by becoming meat-eaters.
These claims are disconcerting. At other times, we may choose not to engage their
proponents. But not today, when they are being bandied about with studied irresponsibility
to reshape the future of relations between the world's most populous nation and the
world's most powerful one.
A coalition of forces seeks to deprive China of permanent normal trading relations (PNTR)
as a means of obstructing that country's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). We
do not approve of the free-trade paradigm that underpins NTR status. We do not support the
WTO; we believe, in fact, that it would be a mistake for China to join it. But the real
issue in the China debate is not the desirability or undesirability of free trade and the
WTO. The real issue is whether the United States has the right to serve as the gatekeeper
to international organizations such as the WTO. More broadly, it is whether the United
States government can arrogate to itself the right to determine who is and who is not a
legitimate member of the international community. The issue is unilateralism--the
destabilizing thrust that is Washington's oldest approach to the rest of the world.
The unilateralist anti-China trade campaign enmeshes many progressive groups in the US in
an unholy alliance with the right wing that, among other things, advances the Pentagon's
grand strategy to contain China. It splits a progressive movement that was in the process
of coming together in its most solid alliance in years. It is, to borrow Omar Bradley's
characterization of the Korean War, "the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong
The Real China
To justify US unilateralism vis-à-vis China, opponents of NTR for China have constructed
an image of China that could easily have come out of the pen of Joseph McCarthy.
But what really is China? Since the anti-China lobby has done such a good job telling us
about China's bad side, it might be appropriate to begin by showing the other side.
Many in the developing world admire China for being one of the world's most dynamic
economies, growing between 7-10 per cent a year over the past decade. Its ability to push
a majority of the population living in abject poverty during the Civil War period in the
late forties into decent living conditions in five decades is no mean achievement. That
economic dynamism cannot be separated from an event that most countries in the global
South missed out on: a social revolution in the late forties and early fifties that
eliminated the worst inequalities in the distribution of land and income and prepared the
country for economic takeoff when market reforms were introduced into the agricultural
sector in the late 1970's.
China likewise underlines a reality that many in the North, who are used to living under
powerful states that push the rest of the world around, fail to appreciate: this is the
critical contribution of a liberation movement that decisively wrests control of the
national economy from foreign interests. China is a strong state, born in revolution and
steeled in several decades of wars hot and cold. Its history of state formation accounts
for the difference between China and other countries of the South, like Thailand, Brazil,
Nigeria, and South Korea. In this it is similar to that other country forged in
Foreign investors can force many other governments to dilute their investment rules to
accommodate them. That is something they find difficult to do in China and Vietnam, which
are prepared to impose a thousand and one restrictions to make sure that foreign capital
indeed contributes to development, from creating jobs to actually transferring technology.
The Pentagon can get its way in the Philippines, Korea, and even Japan. These are, in many
ways, vassal states. In contrast, it is very careful when it comes to dealing with China
and Vietnam, both of whom taught the US that bullying doesn't pay during the Korean War
and the Vietnam War, respectively.
Respect is what China and Vietnam gets from transnationals and Northern governments.
Respect is what most of our governments in the global South don't get. When it comes to
pursuing national interests, what separates China and Vietnam from most of our countries
are successful revolutionary nationalist movements that got institutionalized into
What is the "Case" against China?
Of course, China has problems when it comes to issues such as its development model, the
environment, workers rights, human rights and democracy. But here the record is much more
complex than the picture painted by many US NGO's.
- The model of development of outward-oriented growth built on exports to developed
country markets of labor-intensive products is no scheme to destroy organized labor
thought up by an evil regime. This is the model that has been prescribed for over two
decades by the World Bank and other Western-dominated development institutions for the
developing countries. When China joined the World Bank in the early eighties, this was the
path to development recommended by the officials and experts of that institution.
Through the strategic manipulation of aid, loans, and the granting of the stamp of
approval for entry into world capital markets, the Bank pushed export-oriented,
labor-intensive manufacturing and discouraged countries from following
domestic-market-oriented growth based on rising wages and incomes. In this connection, it
must be pointed out that World Bank policies vis-à-vis China and the Third World were
simply extensions of policies in the US, Britain, and other countries in the North, where
the Keynesian or Social Democratic path based on rising wages and incomes was foreclosed
by the anti-labor, pro-capitalist neoliberal policies of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher,
and their ideological allies.
- True, development in China has been accompanied by much environmental destruction and
must be criticized. But what many American environmentalists forget is that the model of
double-digit GDP growth based on resource-intensive, waste-intensive, toxic-intensive
production and unrestrained levels of consumption is one that China and other developing
countries have been encouraged to copy from the North, where it continues to be the
dominant paradigm. Again, the World Bank and the whole Western neoclassical economics
establishment, which has equated development with unchecked levels of consumption, must
bear a central part of the blame.
Northern environmentalists love to portray China as representing the biggest future threat
to the global environment. They assume that China will simply emulate the unrestrained
consumer-is-king model of the US and the North. What they forget to mention is that per
capita consumption in China is currently just one tenth of that of developed countries.
What they decline to point out is that the US, with five per cent of the world's
population, is currently the biggest single source of global climate change, accounting as
it does for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. As the Center for Science and
Environment (CSE) points out, the carbon emission level of one US citizen in 1996 was
equal to that of 19 Indians, 30 Pakistanis, 17 Maldivians, 49 Sri Lankans, 107
Bangladeshis, 134 Bhutanese, or 269 Nepalis.
When it comes to food consumption, Lester Brown's picture of Chinese meat eaters and milk
consumers destabilizing food supply is simply ethnocentric, racist, and wrong. According
to FAO data, China's consumption of meat in 1992-94 was 33kg per capita and this is
expected to rise to 60kg per capita in 2020. In contrast, the comparable figures for
developed countries was 76kg per capita in 1992-94, rising to 83kg in 2020. When it comes
to milk, China's consumption was 7 kg per capita in 1992-94, rising marginally to 12 kg in
2020. Per capita consumption in developed countries, in contrast was 195kg and declining
only marginally to 189kg in 2020.
The message of these two sets of figures is unambiguous: the unchecked consumption levels
in the United States and other Northern countries continue to be the main destabilizer of
the global environment.
- True, China is no workers' paradise. Yet it is simplistic to say that workers have no
rights, or that the government has, in the manner of a pimp, delivered its workers to
transnationals to exploit. There are unions; indeed, China has the biggest trade union
confederation in the world, with 100 million members. Granted, this confederation is
closely linked with the government. But this is also the case in Malaysia, Singapore,
Mexico, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and many other countries. The Chinese trade unions are not
independent from government, but they ensure that workers' demands and concerns are not
ignored by government. If the Chinese government were anti-worker, as AFL-CIO propaganda
would have it, it would have dramatically reduced its state enterprise sector by now. It
is precisely concern about the future of the hundreds of millions of workers in state
enterprises that has made the government resist the prescription to radically dismantle
the state enterprise sector coming from Chinese neoliberal economists, foreign investors,
the business press, and the US government--all of whom are guided by a narrow
efficiency/profitability criterion, and are completely insensitive to the sensitivity to
employment issues of the government.
The fact is that workers in China probably have greater protection and access to
government than industrial workers who live in right-to-work states (where non-union shops
are encouraged by law) in the United States. If there is a government that must be
targeted by the AFL-CIO for being anti-labor, it must be its own government, which, in
collusion with business, has stripped labor of so many of its traditional legal
protections and rights that the proportion of US workers unionized is down to only 13% of
the work force!
- True, there is much to be done in terms of bringing genuine democracy and greater
respect for human rights in China. And certainly, actions like the Tienanmen massacre and
the repression of political dissidents must be condemned, in much the same way that
Amnesty International severely criticizes the United States for relying on mass
incarceration as a principal mechanism of social control. But this is not a repressive
regime devoid of legitimacy like the Burmese military junta.
As in the United States and other countries, there is a lot of grumbling about government,
but this cannot be said to indicate lack of legitimacy on the part of the government.
Again and again, foreign observers in China note that while there might be disaffection,
there is widespread acceptance of the legitimacy of the government.
Monopolization of decision making by the Communist Party at the regional and national
level is still the case, but relatively free elections now take place in many of the
country's rural villages in an effort to deconcentrate power from Beijing to better deal
with rural economic problems, according to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who
is otherwise quite critical of the Chinese leadership.
Indeed, lack of Western-style multiparty systems and periodic competitive elections does
not mean that the government is not responsive to people. The Communist Party is all too
aware of the fact that its continuing in power is dependent on popular legitimacy. This
legitimacy in turn depends on convincing the masses that it is doing an adequate job its
fulfilling four goals: safeguarding national sovereignty, avoiding political instability,
raising people's standard of living, and maintaining the rough tradition of equality
inherited from the period of classical socialism. The drama of recent Chinese history has
been the way the party has tried to stay in power by balancing these four concerns of the
population. This balancing act has been achieved, Asia expert Chalmers Johnson writes, via
an "ideological shift from an all-embracing communism to an all-embracing nationalism
[that has] helped to hold Chinese society together, giving it a certain intellectual and
emotional energy and stability under the intense pressures of economic
- As for demand for democratic participation, this is certainly growing and should be
strongly supported by people outside China. But it is wishful thinking to claim that
US-style forms of democratic expression have become the overwhelming demand of the
population. While one might not agree with all the points he makes, a more accurate
portrayal of the state of things than that given by the anti-China lobby is provided by
the English political philosopher John Gray in his classic work False Dawn:
China's current regime is undoubtedly transitional, but rather than moving towards
"democratic capitalism," it is evolving from the western, Soviet institutions of
the past into a modern state more suited to Chinese traditions, needs, and circumstances.
Liberal democracy is not on the historical agenda for China. It is very doubtful if the
one-child policy, which even at present is often circumvented, could survive a transition
to liberal democracy. Yet, as China's present rulers rightly believe, an effective
population policy is indispensable if scarcity of resources is not to lead to ecological
catastrophe and political crisis.
Popular memories of the collapse of the state and national defenselessness between the
world wars are such that any experiment with political liberalization which appears to
carry the risk of near-anarchy of post-Soviet Russia will be regarded with suspicion or
horror by the majority of Chinese. Few view the break-up of the state other than a supreme
evil. The present regime has a potent source of popular legitimacy in the fact that so far
it has staved off that disaster.
The Anti-China Trade Campaign: Wrong and Dangerous
It is against this complex backdrop of a country struggling for development under a
political system, which, while not democratic along Western lines, is nevertheless
legitimate, and which realizes that its continuing legitimacy depends on its ability to
deliver economic growth that one must view the recent debate in the US over the granting
of Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to China.
PNTR is the standard tariff treatment that the United States gives nearly all its trading
partners, with the exception of China, Afghanistan, Serbia-Montenegro, Cuba, Laos, North
Korea, and Vietnam. Granting of PNTR is seen as a key step in China's full accession to
the World Trade Organization (WTO) since the 1994 Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO
requires members to extend NTR to other WTO members mutually and without conditions. This
is the reason that the fight over PNTR is so significant, in that it is integrally linked
to China's full accession to the WTO.
Organized labor is at the center of a motley coalition that is against granting PNTR to
China. This coalition includes right wing groups and personalities like Pat Buchanan, the
old anti-China lobby linked to the anti-communist Kuomintang Party in Taiwan,
protectionist US business groups, and some environmentalist, human rights, and citizens'
rights groups. The intention of this right-left coalition is to be able to use trade
sanctions to influence China's economic and political behavior as well as to make it
difficult for China to enter the WTO.
There are fundamental problems with the position of this alliance, many of whose members
are, without doubt, acting out of the best intentions.
First of all, the anti-China trade campaign is essentially another manifestation of
American unilateralism. Like many in the anti-PNTR coalition, we do not uphold the
free-trade paradigm that underpins the NTR. Like many of them, we do not think that China
will benefit from WTO membership. But what is at issue here is not the desirability or
non-desirability of the free trade paradigm and the WTO in advancing people's welfare.
What is at issue here is Washington's unilateral moves to determine who is to be a
legitimate member of the international economic community--in this case, who is qualified
to join and enjoy full membership rights in the WTO.
This decision of whether or not China can join the WTO is one that must be determined by
China and the 137 member-countries of the WTO, without one power exercising effective veto
power over this process. To subject this process to a special bilateral agreement with the
United States that is highly conditional on the acceding country's future behavior falls
smack into the tradition of unilateralism.
One reason the anti-China trade campaign is particularly disturbing is that it comes on
the heels of a series of recent unilateralist acts, the most prominent of which have been
Washington's cruise missile attacks on alleged terrorist targets in the Sudan and
Afghanistan in August 1998, its bombing of Iraq in December 1998, and the US-instigated
12-week NATO bombardment of Kosovo in 1999. In all three cases, the US refused to seek UN
sanction or approval but chose to act without international legal restraints. Serving as
the gatekeeper for China's integration into the global economic community is the economic
correlate of Washington's military unilateralism.
Second, the anti-China trade campaign reeks of double standards. A great number of
countries would be deprived of PNTR status were the same standards sought from China
applied to them, including Singapore (where government controls the labor movement),
Mexico (where labor is also under the thumb of government), Saudi Arabia and the Gulf
states (where women are systematically relegated by law and custom to second-class status
as citizens), Pakistan (where a military dictatorship reigns), Brunei (where democratic
rights are non-existent), to name just a few US allies. What is the logic and moral basis
for singling out China when there are scores of other regimes that are, in fact, so much
more insensitive to the political, economic, and social needs of their citizenries?
Third, the campaign is marked by what the great Senator J. William Fulbright denounced as
the dark side of the American spirit that led to the Vietnam debacle--that is, "the
morality of absolute self-assurance fired by the crusading spirit." It draws
emotional energy not so much from genuine concerns for human and democratic rights in
China but from the knee-jerk emotional ensemble of anti-communism that continues to plague
the US public despite the end of the Cold War. When one progressive organizer says that
non-passage of the PNTR would inflict defeat on "the brutal, arrogant, corrupt,
autocratic, and oligarchic regime in Beijing," the strong language is not
unintentional: it is meant to hit the old Cold War buttons to mobilize the old
anti-communist, conservative constituency, in the hope of building a right-left populist
base that could--somehow--be directed at "progressive" ends.
Fourth, the anti-China trade campaign is intensely hypocritical. As many critics of the
campaign have pointed out, the moral right of the US to deny permanent normal trading
rights to China on social and environmental grounds is simply nonexistent given its
record: the largest prison population in the world, the most state-sponsored executions of
any country in the world, the highest income disparities among industrialized countries,
the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and quasi-slavery conditions for farm
Fifth, the anti-China trade campaign is intellectually flawed. The issue of labor control
in China lies at the core of the campaign, which blames China's government for the low
wages that produce the very competitively priced goods that are said to contribute to
displacing US industries and workers. This is plain wrong: the relatively low wages in
China stem less from wage repression than from the dynamics of economic development.
Widespread poverty or low economic growth are the main reasons for the low wages in
developing countries. Were the state of unionism the central determinant of wage levels,
as the AFL-CIO claims, labor costs in authoritarian China and democratic India, with its
formally free trade union movement, would not be equal, as they, in fact, are.
Similarly, it is mainly the process of economic growth--the dynamic interaction between
the growing productivity of labor, the reduction of the wage-depressing surplus of rural
labor, and rising profits--that triggers the rapid rise in wage levels in an economy, as
shown in the case of Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore, which had no independent unions and
where strikes were illegal during their periods of rapid development.
Saying that the dynamics of development rather than the state of labor organizing is by
far the greatest determinant of wage levels is not to say that the organization of labor
is inconsequential. Successful organizing has gotten workers a higher level of wages than
would be possible were it only the dynamics of economic development that were at work. It
is not to argue that labor organizing is not desirable in developing economies. Of course,
it is not only desirable but necessary, so that workers can keep more of the value of
production for themselves, reduce their exploitation by transnational and state capitalist
elites, and gain more control over their conditions of work.
Sixth, the anti-China trade campaign is dishonest. It invokes concern about the rights of
Chinese workers and the rights of the Chinese people, but its main objective is to protect
American jobs against cheap imports from China. This is cloaking self-interest with
altruistic rhetoric. What the campaign should be doing is openly acknowledging that its
overriding goal is to protect jobs, which is a legitimate concern and goal. And what it
should be working for is not invoking sanctions on human rights grounds, but working out
solutions such as managed trade, which would seek to balance the need of American workers
to protect their jobs while allowing the market access that allows workers in other
countries to keep their jobs and their countries to sustain a certain level of growth
while they move to change their development model.
Instead, what the rhetoric of the anti-China trade campaign does is to debase human rights
and democratic rights language with its hypocrisy while delegitimizing the objective of
protecting jobs--which is a central social and economic right--by concealing it.
Seventh, the anti-China trade campaign is a classic case of blaming the victim. China is
not the enemy. Indeed, it is a prisoner of a global system of rules and institutions that
allows transnational corporations to take advantage of the differential wage levels of
counties at different levels of development to increase their profits, destabilize the
global environment by generalizing an export-oriented, high-consumption model of
development, and concentrate global income in fewer and fewer hands.
Not granting China PNTR will not affect the functioning of this global system. Not giving
China normal trading and investment rights will not harm transnational corporations; they
will simply take more seriously the option of moving to Indonesia, Mauritius, or Mexico,
where their ability to exact concessions is greater than in China, which can stand up to
foreign interests far better than the weak governments of these countries.
What the AFL-CIO and others should be doing is targeting this global system, instead of
serving up China as a proxy for it.
A Positive Agenda
The anti-China trade campaign amounts to a Faustian bargain that seeks to buy some space
for US organized labor at the expense of real solidarity with workers and progressive
worker and environmental movements globally against transnational capital. But by buying
into the traditional US imperial response of unilateralism, it will end up eventually
eroding the position of progressive labor, environmental, and civil society movements both
in the US and throughout the world.
What organized labor and US NGO's should be doing, instead, is articulating a positive
agenda aimed at weakening the power of global corporations and multilateral agencies that
promote TNC-led globalization.
The first order of business is to not allow the progressive movement to be sandbagged in
the pro-permanent normal trade relations, anti-permanent normal trade relations terms of
engagement that now frames the debate. While progressives must, for the time being, oppose
the more dangerous threat posed by the unilateralists, they should be developing a
position on global economic relations that avoids both the free trade paradigm that
underlies the PNTR and the unilateralist paradigm of the anti-PNTR forces. The model we
propose is managed trade, which allows trading partners to negotiate bilateral and
multilateral treaties that address central issues in their relationship--among them, the
need to preserve workers jobs in the US with the developing countries' need for market
Advocacy of managed trade must, however, be part of a broader campaign for progressive
global economic governance. The strategic aim of such a campaign must be the tighter
regulation, if not replacement, of the model corporate-led free market development that
seeks to do away with social and state restrictions on the mobility of capital at the
expense of labor. In its place must be established a system of genuine international
cooperation and looser global economic integration that allows countries to follow paths
of national and regional development that make the domestic market and regional markets
rather than the global market the engine of growth, development, and job creation.
This means support for measures of asset and income redistribution that would create the
purchasing power that will make domestic markets viable. It means support for trade
measures and capital controls that will give countries more control over their trade and
finance so that commodity and capital flows become less disruptive and destabilizing. It
means support for regional integration or regional economic union among the developing
countries as an alternative to indiscriminate globalization.
A key element in this campaign for a new global economic governance is the abolition of
the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization that
serve as the pillars of the system of corporate-led globalization and their replacement
with a pluralistic system of institutions that complement but at the same time check and
balance one another, thus giving the developing countries the space to pursue their paths
The IMF, World Bank, and WTO are currently experiencing a severe crisis of legitimacy,
following the debacle in Seattle, the April protests in Washington, and the release of the
report of the International Financial Institutions Advisory Commission (Meltzer
Commission) appointed by the US Congress, which recommends the radical downsizing or
transformation of the Bank and Fund. Now is the time for the progressive movement to
take the offensive and push for the elimination or radical transformation of these
institutions. Yet, here we are, being waylaid from this critical task at this key moment
by an all-advised, divisive campaign to isolate the wrong enemy!
Another key thrust of a positive agenda is a coordinated drive by civil society groups in
the North and the South to pressure the US, China, and all other governments to ratify and
implement all conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and give the ILO
more effective authority to monitor, supervise, and adjudicate implementation of these
conventions. This campaign must be part of a broader effort to support the formation of
genuine labor unions in China, the Southern United States, and elsewhere in a spirit of
real workers' solidarity. This, instead of relying on government trade sanctions that are
really self-serving rather than meant to support Third World workers, is the route to the
creation of really firm ties of solidarity across North-South lines.
This social and economic program must be tied to a strategy for protecting the global
environment that also eschews sanctions as an approach and puts the emphasis on promoting
sustainable development models in place of the export-led, high-consumption development
model; pushes the adoption of common environmental codes that prevent transnational firms
from pitting one country against another in their search for the zero cost environmental
regimes; and promotes an environmental Marshall Plan aimed at transferring appropriate
green process and production technologies to China and other developing countries.
Above all, this approach must focus not on attacking China and the South but on
strategically changing the production and consumption behavior and levels in the North
that are by far the biggest source of environmental destabilization.
Finally, a positive agenda must have as a central element civil society groups in the
North working constructively with people's movements in China, the United States, and
other countries experiencing democratic deficits to support the expansion of democratic
space. While the campaign must be uncompromising in denouncing acts of repression like the
Tienanmen Square massacre and Washington's use of mass incarceration as a tool of social
control, it must avoid imposing the forms of Western procedural democracy on others and
hew to the principle that it is the people in these countries themselves that must take
the lead in building democracy according to their rhythm, traditions, and cultures.
The anti-PNTR coalition is an alliance born of opportunism. In its effort to block imports
from China, the AFL-CIO is courting the more conservative sectors of the US population,
including the Buchananite right wing, by stirring the old Cold War rhetoric. Nothing could
be a more repellent image of this sordid project than John Sweeney, James Hoffa, President
of the Teamsters, and Pat Buchanan holding hands in the anti-China trade rally on April
12, 2000, with Buchanan promising to make Hoffa his top negotiator of trade, if he won the
race for president.
Some environmental groups and citizens groups which have long but unsuccessfully courted
labor, have, in turn, endorsed the campaign because they see it as the perfect opportunity
to build bridges to the AFL-CIO. What we have, as a result, is an alliance built on the
assertion of US unilateralism rather than on the cornerstone of fundamental shared goals
of solidarity, equity, and environmental integrity.
This is not a progressive alliance but a right-wing populist alliance in the tradition of
the anti-communist Big Government-Big Capital-Big Labor alliance during the Cold War, the
labor-capital alliance in the West that produced the Exclusion and Ant-Miscegenation Acts
against Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
and, more recently, the populist movement that has supported the tightening of racist
immigration laws by emphasizing the divide between workers who are citizens and workers
who are not, with the latter being deprived of basic political rights.
It is a policy that will, moreover, feed global instability by lending support to the
efforts of the US right and the Pentagon to demonize China as The Enemy and resurrect
Containment as America's Grand Strategy, this time with China instead of the Soviet Union
as the foe in a paradigm designed to advance American strategic hegemony.
As in every other instance of unprincipled unity between the right and some sectors of the
progressive movement, progressives will find that it will be the right that will walk away
with the movement while they will be left with not even their principles.
It is time to move away from this terribly misguided effort to derail the progressive
movement by demonizing China, and to bring us all back to the spirit of Seattle as a
movement of citizens of the world against corporate-led globalization and for genuine
Quoted in John Gershman, "How to Debate the China Issue without
China Bashing," Progressive Response, Vol. 4, No. 17, April 20, 2000.
Lester Brown, Who Will Feed China? (New York: Norton, 1995).
Anil Agarwal, Sunita Narain, and Anju Sharma, eds., Green Politics
(New Delhi: Center for Science and Environment, 2000), p. 108.
Ibid., p. 16.
FAO and IMPACT data cited in Simeon Ehui, "Trade and Food
Systems in the Developing World," Presentation at Salzburg Seminar, Salzburg,
Austria, May 11, 2000.
Amnesty International, Unted States of America: Rights for All
(London: amnesty International Publications, 1998).
Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (New York: Farrar,
Straus Giroux, 1999), p. 50.
Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American
Empire (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000), p. 50.
John Gray, False Dawn (New York: New Press, 1998), pp. 189-190.
J. William Fulbright, quoted in Walter McDougall, Promised Land,
Crusader State (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), p. 206.
See Anuradha Mittal and Peter Rosset, "The Real Enemy is the
WTO, not China," Peaceworks, March 1, 2000; and Jim Smith, "The China
Syndrome--or, How to Hijack a Movement," LA Labor News, April 2, 2000.
For the state of the labor movement in these societies in the period
of rapid growth, see Walden Bello and Stephanie Rosenfeld, Dragons in Distress: Asia's
Miracle Economies in Crisis (San Francisco: Institute for Food and Development Policy,
For more on managed trade, see, among others, Johnson, p. 174.
Report of the US Congressional International Financial Institution
Advisory Commission (Washington: DC, US Congress, Feb. 2000).
*Walden Bello is executive director of Focus on the Global South, a program of
research, analysis, and capacity building based in Bangkok; Anuradha Mittal is co-director
of the Oakland-based Institute for Food and Development Policy, better known as Food First.
Junta, Not Suu Kyi, Bars Progress
By Brian Joseph (FEER)
On May 27, 1990, the Burmese people voted overwhelming for democracy,
awarding the National League for Democracy 392 of 485 parliamentary seats. The
military-backed party won 10. Beaten soundly, the military junta, the State Law and Order
Restoration Council, ignored the results and arrested hundreds of elected NLD
representatives. Dozens of others fled to Thailand. To this day, Slorc, renamed the State
Peace and Development Council, remains in power and the NLD finds its legitimacy being
challenged for no other reason than the passage of time.
Rulers who deny the mandate of the people do not derive legitimacy by virtue of the
passage of time. Imposing a "statute of limitations," as it were, on the NLD's
duty to represent the people who elected the party would indicate otherwise. To put the
winners aside in the name of expediency rewards the military for its ruthlessness and
punishes the NLD for its steadfastness.
Led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD has called on the international community to support the
implementation of the United Nations resolutions on Burma, passed annually since 1992; it
supports the use of sanctions to facilitate a tripartite dialogue between the military
junta, the NLD and ethnic nationalities. Its message is clear. Yet some observers,
including academics, advocacy groups and government officials, have begun to question if
diplomatic pressure and support for the opposition will succeed. Implicit in this, and
explicit in the regime's own determination to undermine the United States, the European
Union and the UN's resolve on Burma, is that the international community should no longer
look to Suu Kyi and the NLD as the legitimate leaders of Burma. In short, they are now
asking, given the inability of the two parties to reach any compromise and the length of
time that has passed since the elections, if it wouldn't be reasonable to begin to cease
to dwell on the past.
But this is exactly what the SPDC has hoped for. As long as the international community
continues to look to the NLD as the legitimate winners of the 1990 elections, the SPDC
will never gain the international legitimacy it so desperately wants. Visible
international support for the NLD and the pro-democracy movement, which the NLD has
requested, also bolsters the party's efforts to retain support at home. In addition to the
more tangible results of international pressure, it provides critical moral support to the
people of Burma. The SPDC has therefore gone to great lengths to convince the
international community and the people of Burma that the NLD is no longer viable. They
have even gone so far as to claim that the election was not a parliamentary election at
all but an election to select some of the participants to a constitutional convention. The
election is an albatross around the junta's neck.
Another aspect of the SPDC's propaganda is to suggest that the NLD is setting up
roadblocks to any serious dialogue. A handful of policymakers and Burma scholars now argue
that the NLD is an impediment to change; that its core position is hardline and
uncompromising. According to Robert Taylor, vice-chancellor of Buckingham University in
Britain, "a number of people" feel that Suu Kyi's stand on principle "makes
it very difficult to have a stand on politics." But as the NLD has stated repeatedly,
its only precondition to dialogue is that there be no preconditions. They have been
accused of being uncompromising for not accepting terms no one would. They have continued
to state that they, for example, and not the SPDC, will choose who will represent the NLD
in talks. This is neither hardline nor uncompromising.
Efforts to promote democracy in Burma should be based on the 1990 election. To assume that
the NLD no longer speaks for the people of Burma is a false assumption. It is the NLD, and
not the SPDC, that is the voice of the people. In no other authoritarian country is it so
clear who speaks for the democratic opposition. To support a reduction in international
pressure on the military junta goes against the express wishes of the NLD. It is neither
right nor appropriate to work against their wishes in the name of democracy.
For those who believe that support for the NLD and Suu Kyi is noble but naive, look
around. We have stood with many great world leaders who fought long for justice--Nelson
Mandela, Kim Dae Jung, Vaclav Havel. It is not time to turn our backs on Burma. There is
no shortage of democrats in Burma. What's missing is democracy.
The writer is the programme officer for Asia at the National Endowment for Democracy in
Washington. He oversees its Burma project
ILO attacks Burma forced labour
The International Labour Organisation has condemned the Burmese
military government for its "systematic and widespread" use of forced labour. It
says the authorities in Rangoon treat the civilian population as an unlimited pool of
unpaid labourers and servants. Trade Unions estimate that more than 800,000 Burmese are
forced to work as army porters or workers in construction and agriculture, with little or
no pay and in slave-like conditions. The ILO says the political system in Burma, or
Myanmar, is based on force and intimidation and the Burmese people are denied democracy
and the rule of law.
A commission of enquiry set up by the Geneva-based organisation accuses soldiers of raping
or sexually assaulting women in their charge and says other civilians are frequently
beaten. The commission found human rights, especially in the workplace, had got worse
since the military-backed State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) took over in
1988. More than 250 people testified to the ILO investigators and gave evidence about the
pervasive use of compulsory labour imposed by government officials and the military.
'Unwilling workers often murdered'
Large sections of the population are forced to service military camps, maintain the roads
and railways and farm the land for little or no pay, according to the report. Those who
are unwilling or unfit are beaten, tortured or murdered, it says. Women, children and the
elderly are allegedly used as porters and are even sent ahead to check out minefields. The
report says non-Burmese ethnic groups such as the Muslim minority, the Rohingyas, who live
in the north-western province of Arakan, bear the brunt of much of the forced labour.
The Rangoon regime, which refused access to the inquiry team, said the complaints were
based on biased and unfounded allegations by those wishing to denigrate the government.
The ILO's allegations will boost supporters of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi,
who has long campaigned against the illegitimacy of a regime she says is corrupt.
STATEMENT ON THE PRESENT SITUATION BY
THE INTER-RELIGIOUS PEACE FOUNDATION
The dramatic escalation of the war has brought the country t a most
decisive conjuncture. We believe that war must end in Peace. Her Excellency, President
Chandrika Kumaranatunga Bandaranaike, in her May Day message has stated that "Today
the entire nation is confronted with the onerous challenge of ending the war and bring
about peace". It is the responsibility of all citizens to join together to find a
solution to the conflict and to bring an end to this war once and for all.
We believe that the path to peace is the path of compromise and sacrifice so we may learn
to live together as a people and share this beautiful land. If we can find the way to
forge the relations that bind us as brothers and sisters of one human family and discover
oru true strength and purpose in building a united, independent, democratic and prosperous
Sri Lanka, then we would have achieved genuine peace. The language of weapons will then be
replaced with the language of discourse, of dialogue and discussion, to reach consensus on
building a common future.
We call upon all parties to the conflict to open the doors to thsi dialogue and to set the
terms and conditions, the strctures and processes, that will bind them all to seek such a
lasting solution. Other nations once rent asunder bu intractable conflict have found the
way to overcome division through building respect for difference and have established the
foundations of a democratic, pluralist policical order. Those who have stood in the way of
building unity by clinging to narrow, exclusive and divisive claims have been rejected by
We call on all parties to the conflict to declare their intencion to work towards a
ceasefire and negotiate the terms for implementing it without delay. We propose that the
Jaffna Peninsular be declared a no-conflict zone as the first step in such a process of
We do so since we sincerely believe that this is the only way to put an end to the
suffering and destruction and to build the unity of the country and the people.
[This statement was signed by 12 members of the Executive Committee of the Inter Religious
Peace Foundation. For more information, plese write to firstname.lastname@example.org]
Dr. Kim: Without Debt Cancelation,
Indonesia Will Sink
[*Translated from The Manado Post, Monday 29 May 2000]
We have now entered the real era of globalization. The domination of
the rich and powerful countries over the poor and powerless countries is getting stronger.
The IMF, WB, and WTO keep pouring in their money "to help" these poor countries.
To soften the psychological impacts and implications, the governments use the word
"aid" instead of "loan." Yet, one thing is clear - whether one uses
the word "aid" or "loan" one still needs to return the fund within a
certain period of time, with interest.
Like a ship, Indonesia is sinking. It is caused by the heavy burden of foreign debt that
has been loaded onto this 'ship.' "Therefore, debt cancellation is a must for this
country," said Dr. Kim Yong Bock, an activist leader from Korea. Dr. Kim is now the
President of a university in South Korea, and is presently in Manado for the People's
Forum organised by the CCA-URM.
That very brave statement was given during the press conference held at Bapelkes -
Malalayang, on 27th May 2000. Together with his colleague, another activist in Korea, [the
Rev.] In Myung Jin, he stated that aid in the form of loan is a form of burden and
domination for a developing country like Indonesia. "Indonesians will surely suffer,
eaten up by the debt put on their shoulders".
Dr. Kim added, "Indonesia has both the natural and human resources but has not the
ability to manage these resources. In the end, Indonesia will have no choice but to get
loans from donors. Unfortunately, the money they received from the donors was heavily
corrupted by the government. The development and economic progress under the Suharto
regime was not based on the local resourses and grassroot community power, but on foreign
debt. And the New Order is claimed to be the best way to develop the country, while in
actuality, it was an unreal development."
The situation is changing slowly but surely. After the fall of the Suharto regime and the
awakening of the "REFORMASI" groups, the political situation has changed. Many
activists are advocating for debt cancellation and are urging the government to demand
this from the donors. The debt relief and debt cancellation campaign has spread throughout
the country; the latest was done by the Anti-Debt Coalition, in Jakarta. "Without
debt cancellation, Indonesia will never be able to pay her debts again," Dr. Kim
Josef Widyatmadja, the executive secretary of the CCA-URM, stated that the debt
cancellation campaign should also identify the people who would benefit the most from such
a campaign and who suffers the most if debt cancellation was not pursued. He also
cautioned that we need also to question who benefited most from the debt, and that if the
people involved in the lobbying and negotiation for debt cancellation benefited or had
links with the corrupt debt. "This needs a very careful and serious research,"
Josef said. "It is time for the people's movements and humanitarians to think
seriously on the debt ethics. We need new ethics on debt, particularly when it involves
the developed countries and the developing countries. It is important to review the old
ethics when it comes to how much the people - who get less benefit - have to pay the
debt". The fall of Suharto is a lesson for this country that people power can destroy
the walls of tyrants. The Seattle experience is an inspiration and motivation for the
people's movement all around the world to continue their struggles to create a just and
However, the issues of debt, free market and globalization are not only the concern of
governments and business people, but also the concern of ordinary people, and everyone who
longs for a fair and just world. "And this struggle goes beyond ethnic and religious
boundaries," said Josef closing the press conference.