China's Pragmatism Dodge

China Arms Shipment

The recent Pre-Olympics scuffles over Chinese actions in Tibet only served to obscure a much more serious problem in China’s foreign policy: their willingness to support and arm the worst dictators in Africa. Yesterday a courageous South African dock-workers union refused to unload a large shipment of Chinese guns, mortars, and shoulder-fired missiles bound for Mugabe’s Army in Zimbabwe. Before the Tibet issue came to dominate the debate, activists had managed to highlight China’s role in the repression in Darfur. The Chinese response to the hold up of the arms to Mugabe’s thugs was classic real-politik.

“China has always had a prudent and responsible attitude toward arm sales,” its Foreign Ministry told Reuters. “One of the most important principles is not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.”

Because I teach a good number of Chinese graduate students, I am well aware of the sensitivity around the Tibet issue, which involves perceived meddling by the West in Chinese internal affairs. They ask, what if China started supporting the return of California to Mexico? We have had many spirited and engaging discussions in class over the role of press and Internet freedom, human rights of Chinese dissidents and I sense a new confidence on the part of the younger generation that freedom and progress go hand in hand. Needless to say, from the Chinese Government’s point of view the long history of CIA meddling in Tibet has put a bad taste in their mouth. It was the CIA that sneaked the Dalai Lama out of Lhasa and it was the CIA that armed the Tibetan rebels to harass the Chinese troops.

But this issue of China pretending that it is just a pragmatic supplier of arms to any regime that needs them–no matter how repressive they are–begs the question of China’s larger role in the world community. It seems to me they can no longer use this pragmatism trope to dodge their responsibility for aiding genocide and injustice.

Addendum:Obviously, as Ken pointed out, the Americans are equally guilty of holding their noses and send arms to tyrants, so it is virttually impossible for our government to object to the Chinese moves in Zimbabwe and Darfur. But as citizens we can call on both governments to stop this practice.


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0 Responses to China's Pragmatism Dodge

  1. Ken Ballweg says:

    Curious, who sells more with less discrimination: China or the US?

  2. Jon Taplin says:

    Ken- Point well taken. So both the U.S. and China have to stop funding autocrats.

  3. Rick Turner says:

    Might be interesting to read what unfettered free-market libertarian Morgan has to say about the arms trade…

  4. Danny Kenny says:

    Libertarians believe in non-violence, most importantly involving governments. We would neither support the government sponsored arms trade nor would we tolerate illegal arm sales. I would fully agree with the acts of the South African port workers. They are free to choose who they would do business with.

  5. Hugo says:

    Ken, I responded to you, with my tale of emotional produce, in this very context—but at the tag-end of Jon’s string on “Global Warming & Food”. As the cub reporter once explained to his editor, “Sorry it’s so long; I didn’t have time to make it short.”

  6. Ken Ballweg says:


    Would that mean we need to stop funding Dick Chaney? Just a thought.

    Also, in light of the Times lede on military analysts as propaganda tools in return for inside info to assist with their day jobs as defense contractor consultants, I suspect we have little to complain about in terms of arming dictators.

    The still too evergreen riff by Bill Hicks re: Iraq and Gulf War I: We know what they have for weapons, we checked the receipt.

  7. Ken Ballweg says:

    To pull the ongoing thread of “libertarian values can solve any problem” to this entry: I think you folks have an image problem similar to the GOP.

    If libertarian means you are hard core and go with the values of personal freedom complete with the total responsibility that that brings with it, I in. If it means folks like Morgan who cherry pick the libertarian tent poles of “no government regulation”, and “no taxes” while espousing a war of aggression to maintain oil prices, don’t just count me out, count me an active enemy. Fascism is fascism whether the bow you put on it to dress it up says Neo-con Republican, or Morganian Libertarianism.

    Life is not totally without hope. See this link for an analysis of the sale of anti-personnel mines, which the US has now limited, but used to be a key exporter. Sometimes govt. intervention is needed to keep the carrots smiling.

  8. Hugo says:

    Ken, I agree with you about libertarians. I am not one. And the political party that goes by that name is a non-starter.

    But libertarian thinking today serves a vital purpose that J.S. Mill actually foresaw: it’s a check on our impulse to power.

    That’s why I so value Morgan’s contributions.

  9. Jon Taplin says:

    Ken- I have taken on the Military analysts Psy-ops question in a new post.

  10. Ken Ballweg says:

    Hugo, I apologize for mistakenly placing the label on you. Afraid the last seven years have brought out all the worst of my rabid radical Wobbly based west coast leftist tendencies. I tend to see enemies.

    And yes, that last is a complete sentence.

  11. Hugo says:

    We’ll have to keep drawing out your inner Wobbly, Ken! I once knew an old Wobbly storyteller—what we here in the South affectionatly call a “Liar”—who was very fine company indeed.

    He played the saw.

  12. Ken Ballweg says:

    Sir, Your esteem has grown a thousand fold in my eyes. Anyone who knows what a Wobbly is (was?) let alone spoke to one is jake by me.

  13. Rick Turner says:

    A good Wobbly saw player would probably have known how else to use the saw as well.

    And Ken, my point was obviously well taken. I can appreciate libertarian non-aggression as a platform plank, but someone often takes that saw to it and other planks as well.

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