WA China Watch Digest Special!

Survey: Should Washingtonians care about China’s human rights and Internet censorship while doing business with China?

China Human Rights Exhibition, with a giant Chinese character for human. (Source: Chaoxing via Baidu)By Wen Liu   Nov. 2, 2015

In his recent visit to the United Kingdom, China’s President Xi Jinping received royal treatment and signed £40bn of business deals. Tom Wright, director of the Project on International Order and Strategy at the Brookings, however, was critical of the message sent: “… that commerce and economic co-operation is the only metric that will guide the UK’s policy towards China.”

That takes us back to President Xi’s business-packed events in Seattle in September. Only one local article, by Pete Jackson at the Crosscut, raised the issue of China’s human rights: “Welcome, President Xi. Now about those dissidents…" In the meantime, the “Freedom on the Net 2015” report ranked China last of 65 countries, behind Syria and Iran.

So WA China Watch Digest asked this question among our China hands, watchers and practitioners: Do you think Washingtonians should care about China's human rights and Internet censorship while doing business with China, and why?

Here are the answers, varied and insightful, from our volunteer panel, in the order they were received. You are welcome to add your own in Disqus.

Karl Weaver, Greater China mobile payment technology specialist, worked in Beijing and Taiwan:
"Every foreign company doing business in China right now is affected by China's Techno-Nationalism and protectionism, which I might add is not decades long but centuries long in the making. I used Chinese social media to overcome China's techno-nationalism while enabling the standardization of two cutting edge mobile technologies in China. Utilizing Chinese social media will be the only way to avoid China's huge state-run propaganda machine from destroying your company's credibility inside China. Do Washingtonians care about Human Rights in China, sure they care but they separate business from politics."

Jack Peng, retired Boeing engineer; VP/Treasurer, Chinese American Forum:
"We should be more concerned of the racial profiling in this country of Chinese Americans practiced by both of our African American president and attorney general."

Jon Geiger, Director, Business Integration/Business Operations, Boeing Commercial Airplanes:
"Yes we should care – although no more so with China than any other country. At this time China is looking a heck of a lot better than other countries in the world when it comes to human rights. The many countries in the Middle East and Africa make China look like a role model in comparison."

George Koo, Int'l business consultant; board member, New America Media; member, Committee of 100:
"As part of the human race, we should be concerned with all violations of human rights. As a citizen of the U.S., I feel that I have a right to complain about human rights abuses in the U.S., especially when the abuse is directed toward ethnic Chinese in America. I don't like human rights abuses in China either but I have no rights there. Short of genocide and violations of UN laws, human rights violations in China are up to the officials and citizens of China to address."

Ralph Munro, retired five-term Secretary of State of Washington:
"We have to maintain a position of the highest standards. Speaking out about just economic development is not enough. We must constantly push for open Internet policies, clear and substantial human rights programs, and high quality education. We must also maintain the international laws and standards regarding open oceans and geographical borders."

Paul Thomas, retired educator, winery expert and owner:
"Albert Einstein said better than anyone else whom I can recall….when asked what the purpose of life was: 'The purpose of life is to take care of one another.' Need I explain what my position is on human rights in China and the world’s responsibility to our fellow human beings? Internet censorship is closely related to the aforementioned."

Steve Harrell, anthropologist of China and Taiwan, professor of anthropology, environmental and forest sciences, UW:
"If and only if they care about America's bombing record when doing business in the USA."

Sidney Rittenberg, Sr., Rittenberg & Associates; director, Washington State China Relations Council:
"I believe that we should be concerned about human rights everywhere, whether it be in Ferguson or East LA or Alabama--or Seattle--or China. But I don't think we should let our political views interfere with trade and exchanges which are good for people on both sides. Nor do I think we should try to tell other countries what to do, nor should we insult official visitors from China. Nor should we hypocritically pretend to be an exemplar of human rights--one look at our unemployed population and our prison population will show that we are not. Let us stand for and work for human progress, while respecting those who think differently."

Elmer Wagner, retired instructor, Grays Harbor College, with teaching experience in China:
"That’s a difficult question. Of course we should care whenever and wherever human rights are violated. The key question is what do we do about it? Do we apply sanctions; do we cut off trade ties; do we discourage tourism? Or do we more subtly by diplomatic means attempt to bring about change? I’m sure most Washingtonians would not want to discourage trade. Many of our companies have become quite profitable as a result of the China trade. They would opt for our diplomats to deal with the issue. Violations of human rights are interpreted in many different ways. The United States has been criticized by other nations as a violator of human rights because of the overwhelming numbers of ethnic minorities in our jails, the growing number of families living at the poverty level and in gender discrimination in wage earnings. Most of us believe in an unrestricted Internet, easy access to whatever we want to investigate. Other nations place some restrictions on what is available. Do we have a moral right to try to impose our standards on what other societies choose to make available to their citizens? Am I to be the final arbiter as to what other nationalities should and should not see? I think not."

Jim Simpson, China and international agricultural economist; senior fellow, The Foley Institute, WSU:
"If and only if they care about and do something about America's human rights violations. More. If you like sayings. So, how about this. 'People in glass houses should not throw stones....'"

John Fluke, Jr., Fluke Capital Management, LP; past president, Washington State China Relations Council:
"We have two main choices: be on the ground doing business with the Chinese on our terms - or refusing to interact with them and deny ourselves all influence over their practices. Any right-thinking person can make the correct choice!"

Carson Tavenner, Executive Director, The Tai Initiative; member, National Committee on United States-China Relations:
I think part of the answer is to add into our expectations that the business deal will in some (even small) way acknowledge a need for human treatment to improve. I believe 'human dignity' will be a more helpful phrase at this point than 'human rights' because the latter is so heavily politicized, but the real value is found simply in how human beings are being treated."

William Franklin, Franklin International Ltd.; past president, Washington State China Relations Council:
"Yes, I think Americans should 'think about China’s human rights and Internet censorship while doing business with China.' Why? Responsible citizens have a responsibility to be informed about what is happening in other parts of the world. Americans are not always perfect practitioners of ‘walking the walk’ to live up to the standards we espouse, but most of us try to respect the rights of others. We are taught the Golden Rule from a very young age And I believe we get a little better each year about living the Rule. Now, what is the best way to get others to live by the principles we think are important? As I was living in other countries and cultures different than ours I read some of the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French philosopher-Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist and took part in the discovery of Peking Man. In the first half of the 20th Century he wrote about his time in China. One quote 'The Chinese are instinctively hostile to foreigners who propose changes for which they see no need’. Perhaps the Chinese are not the only people who feel that way. I do believe many of us are 'instinctively hostile to foreigners who propose changes for which we see no need.' So if that assumption is correct maybe the question should be what role, if any, can one country do to change the values and practices of another country, other than be a good example that others voluntarily want to follow?"

Ben Shobert, Managing Dir., Rubicon Strategy Group; Senior Assoc., int'l health, NBR; Forbes columnist, healthcare in Asia:
"Yes – we should care. Anytime American technology is used to suppress personal liberty and freedom of expression, it should matter to shareholders, employees, and business leaders. The challenge here is two-fold: first, most of the time the technology itself is agnostic as to how and where it is used which complicates the simple reading that we should be either 'for' or 'against' its export to China. Second, at its core this question is about whether doing business with China will actually result in the sort of liberalization that many Westerners have assumed is inevitable. The simple calculus that China will become more 'like us' if we trade with them, while lacking nuance, does capture a certain amount of the thinking in today’s American politics. Because we now see this transition is not following the path we expected, some are questioning how best to engage China as well as whether or not we should be more limiting in what and how we do business together."

Bart Fite, Director, Mandarin Associates; president, China Club of Seattle:
Business cooperation will do more to facilitate positive change in these areas than political posturing – and remains the most powerful lever available to encourage change. I don’t think it naïve to believe a wealthier, more knowledgeable, more traveled China won’t demand more of its leadership, as they already have in the areas of pollution, land takings, and official corruption.

(For more information on major events in Washington state-China relations, go to WA China Chronicle.)