Tuesday, April 18, 2006

CHINA SYNDROME. Chinese President Hu Jintao has come to see President Bush. He stopped off in Seattle first:
Mr Hu was all business at the start of his tour. Dinner at Bill Gates' house in Seattle, followed by a cafe latte with Howard Schultz, chairman of the Starbucks chain of coffee shops, then on to the Boeing plant, before moving to the east coast, with an itinerary that includes a speech at Mr Bush's alma mater, Yale.
This is not surprising. China is our valued business partner. Per this interesting story in China's People's Daily,
In 2005, bilateral trade between China and the United States rose to 211.63 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of more than 86 times over 1979, when the two countries established diplomatic relations.

China has become the third largest trading partner and the fourth largest export market for the United States, which in turn, is now China's second largest trading partner, with bilateral trade rising 27.4 percent annually between 2001 and 2005.
"Bilateral trade" is a polite term. "...in 2005, China's surplus with the United States surged more than 43 percent, to a record $114.7 billion, compared with $80 billion the prior year and $28 billion in 2001," reports the New York Times via CFO magazine. China sends us goods and services, made cheap by their gigantic and modestly-paid workforce, and we send them lots and lots of dollars.

This is not the sort of thing that roils conservatives much anymore, though a few get a little more exercised about Google, which a few days ago pathetically excused the censored version of its product it has exported for use in China. "It is not an option for us to broadly make information available that is illegal, inappropriate or immoral or what have you," said Google's Eric Schmidt.

One almost wishes he'd said, "Murdoch did it first." (And still does.) But Murdoch and Schmidt are not the only ones who cross a rather muddy culture gap to grab market share in China; while clothing wholesalers do not generally deal with censorship issues, they do benefit from the Chinese approach to labor relations.

As, one may say, we all do. We perhaps fear what might happen to our economy if we applied to our trading partners the sort of rigorous behavioral standards we occasionally, and selectively, apply to Arab dictatorships. Of course, it may be that we have reasons to fear in any case. But we ease our consciences a bit with the thought that it is not our decision in any case, but that of our business classes and their political enablers, who long ago won an argument about the primacy of the free market, and so have been allowed to work their will in he world unobstructed by noisome regulations, or even a second thought.

UPDATE. They seem to come up every time the President meets with folks like Hu: fantasies that our government will send a "message" to the tyrants -- a pro-democracy one, that is, rather than "Keep them cheap shirts and blouses a-comin'!" Are these fantasists trying to fool other people, or themselves? I could spend a lot of time wondering, if I had time to spend.

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