The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The rise of a new ‘Evil Empire’

China’s disregard for human rights and economic agreements as bad as the old Soviet Union

On March 8, 1983, while speaking to the National Evangelical Association convention in Orlando, Ronald Reagan, in one of the most controversial moments of his presidency, referred to the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire.”

Many condemned the reference as a needless ratcheting-up of Cold War rhetoric. Others hailed it as a stark but justifiable portrayal of a country that repressed its own citizens and threatened the stability of all peace-loving nations.

Less than a decade later, the Soviet Union fell apart, its reign of terror relegated to the trash heap of history.

A generation later, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a new and potentially greater threat is lurking. Like the Soviet Union, it subjugates and censors the rights and freedoms of its citizens through a harsh and unyielding social, political, and legal infrastructure. While not (yet) equivalent to the Soviets in terms of military might, it uses its ever-increasing economic leverage–which the Soviets never possessed–to lie, cheat, and violate international agreements it has joined. While there are those who do not consider this country anywhere near the threat to world peace and stability that the Soviets were for nearly half a century, those that underestimate its capacity for bringing about world mischief and, yes, evil, do so at their own risk.

My reference is, of course, to China. Many will disagree with my equation of the Chinese to the Soviets. After all, our children have never practiced safety drills in school, hiding under their desks at the sound of an alarm for fear of a Chinese nuclear attack. Therein, perhaps, lies the reason that the threat from China has been severely underplayed by past administrations, Republican as well as Democratic.

But the fact that we do not fear immediate annihilation should not cloud what is becoming increasingly obvious: China, far from merely constituting a hard-nosed economic competitor, is an escalating threat not only to America but also, like the Soviets, to nations all over the world.

How does China compare with the Soviet Union in the ubiquitous elements required for evil empire designation?  First, it suppresses the rights, freedoms, and dignity of its own people. Here again, this is often downplayed. Many believe that because China has adopted its own version of capitalism, which the Soviets, in keeping with Marxist-Leninist philosophy, refused to do, that its economic forward thinking is accompanied by equivalent social, political, and personal freedoms.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Chinese government is no less adept at denying its citizens’ human rights as was the Soviet Union’s. As the recent quarrel between Google and the Chinese government highlighted, Chinese censorship very much restricts the information that its citizens can access.

Remember, China is a Communist, totalitarian state, as the Soviet Union was. Those who dissent from the party line are likewise subject to swift and severe punishment. While the right to a fair trial is guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, punishment for political crimes is invariably swift, certain, and anything but fair. As of late, Chinese dissidents have seen an increased government crackdown on their activities. Instead of being exiled to the Gulag, they are either jailed, sent to re-education camps or worse. A recent case involving a prominent, well-known human rights lawyer named Gao Zhisheng, who has gone missing since September after being detained by the authorities, is an apt illustration.

Despite queries from the US government and human rights organizations, his whereabouts remain unknown. When asked about the case last week, a Chinese police officer pompously stated, “He is where he deserves to be.”

In dealing with the global community, China is as threatening as were the Soviets, with one major distinction: the weapon of choice is economic rather than military. Make no mistake: There is nothing wrong with China exercising its enhanced economic prowess to its advantage–provided that it does so in compliance with international trade agreements to which it is a signatory.

But that is often not the case. China’s massive trade imbalance with most of the world, most notably with the United States, is due, in large part, to its commission of unfair trading practices.

In 2001, China became a signatory nation to the World Trade Organization (WTO), obligating it to abide by that body’s rules and regulations. Among those agreements, China was supposed to open domestic markets to imports and allow its currency to either fluctuate in world markets or maintain its value in accordance with its economic strength and output.

China has repeatedly violated its WTO commitments. First, it denies equal access to American imports, often closing or severely restricting its market to benefit its own manufacturers. Second, the Chinese government has consistently kept its currency, the renminbi, at an artificially low level to give it an unfair advantage in selling its exports.

Economists estimate that China’s currency is undervalued by between 25 and 40 percent.
The perception is that China’s huge trade surplus with the US can be attributed to its significantly lower cost of labor, a perfectly legitimate consideration. The reality, however, is that that difference is merely one factor accounting for the imbalance. China’s undervalued currency, in violation of WTO rules, makes its goods artificially less expensive to US consumers while our exports are inversely more costly to Chinese consumers. The result has been years and now decades of huge American trade deficits and lost jobs. So, while the Soviets were not averse to cheating against us with regard to military and arms control treaties, the Chinese have refined this “skill” into an art form.

The United States, as it did with the Soviet Union, needs to forcefully lay down the law to the Chinese government, which no administration, Democrat or Republican, has been willing to do. While we might not be able to change China’s government’s deplorable behavior toward its own people, it is incumbent upon our leaders to forcefully challenge Chinese violations of economic agreements, and to forcefully speak out and condemn actions which we consider to be morally reprehensible, be they human rights violations, cheating on treaty obligations or cyber attacks against other nations.

Secretary of State Clinton should be commended for her speech several weeks ago in London condemning China’s Internet censorship and violations of human rights.
But talk must be accompanied by meaningful action. If China continues to restrict its markets to American goods and keeps its currency devalued, we need to answer in kind in order to level the playing field. Otherwise, many more years of an ever-widening trade imbalance and lost jobs are inevitable.

Perhaps of greater significance, unless we make clear to the Chinese that violations of trade agreements and other international obligations will not be tolerated, they undoubtedly will continue this unwelcome pattern and, if not now, then in the not-too-distant future, will flex their economic and military might to the point that no one will be able to deny that they have indeed become the new evil empire.

Nathan Mitzner is a junior risk management insurance major. He can be reached for comment at [email protected].

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