Mint Flavored Nation ...
By William Westmiller
The Peoples Republic of China will again be up for renewal of its "Most Favored Nation" (MFN) trading status in a few months. The renewal will probably be approved, but not without the usual incantations against making any concessions to the tyrannic and oppressive Red Chinese military regime. Proponents of open trade would probably like to rename MFN to something that more accurately reflects the actual trading status, which is no more favorable than that with other nations. Before we start talking about a "Mint Flavored Nation" status, or some other cosmetic appellation, we need to look closely at the substantive issues that should govern our trade relations with communist victims.
China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea are the most prominent totalitarian communist dictatorships. Aside from a small ruling elite, their citizens are victims of a system that denies even the most basic human rights. They are all, effectively, slaves. Absolutist ethics might condemn any transaction with slave masters. To whatever degree we benefit from the products created by slave labor, we are soiled by any benefit that might be granted to contemptible criminals. Refusing to purchase tennis shoes made in Bejing or cigars from Cuba is a forthright and ethical position for any conscientious consumer. However, it evades a much more important ethic.
Standing apart from tyranny is nearly a sin of omission when there are opportunities to undercut and destroy the tyranny itself. If a robbery is in progress, it's far from praiseworthy to inform the robber that you don't want a cut of the proceeds. Ethical, yes. But far inferior to applying yourself toward thwarting or reversing the crime itself. In some cases, forcing others to stand aside by imposing your reservations through legal constraints could be a sin of commission. Restraining others who see a chance of foiling the robber's plans could easily be construed as aiding and abetting the crime. The same logic applies to trade with criminal nations. When there are good grounds to believe that engagement will relieve the suffering of victims, we have an obligation to pursue those opportunities. In the case of communist oppression, there are important opportunities for engagement.
However robust their rhetoric, the leaders of communist nations know that socialism is a failure. Communist China didn't allow "crass capitalist oppression" to continue in Hong Kong because of a faint heart. It doesn't allow the export of furry toys because it loves kids. It is - however slowly - conceding the merits of free trade for all people. A command and control economy may be able to maintain a very temporary military and political power, but it can't put bread on the table. That's a very important concession to the concept of individual rights. Voluntary exchange and economic liberty isn't the beginning and end of good government, but it's a big step in the right direction.
The People's Republic of China wants to participate in world trade. It is actively seeking membership in the World Trade Organization, a strong advocate and vehicle for individual economic liberty. Perhaps it still hopes that economic development will not jeopardize its military and political control of citizens. But it will. Affluence and prosperity are only possible within a free market, a context for social intercourse that recognizes individual autonomy and freedom. There is no way to keep liberty under control when populations acquire resources to demand and exercise their personal rights. The ideas inherent in capitalism can and will "wither away" the totalitarian state. It's the beginning of the end of statism.
There are other alternatives. By enforcing economic isolation, we could hope that the entire nation slips into such severe economic degradation that it collapses into a state of complete anarchy. Then we can pray that the good guys win the ensuing battles. Though not an explicit policy, that is essentially what happened to the Soviet Union. Or, we could invade, conquer, and impose our good principles on all the bad governments of the world. That is essentially what we did to Japan. The price in human lives and misery was enormous. Only the most perverted ethics could champion those methods when other, more civil, remedies are available.
Neither Red China nor Red Cuba will become "Mint Flavored Nations" overnight. They won't start seeing the world through green pastel glasses simply because we buy their bicycles. Nor will they concede more power than they must in order to gain the economic advantages they crave. We ought to hold MFN hostage to as many conditions as our negotiators can attain. If the best motives of communists are nothing more than raw greed, we should appeal to it in every way possible. We owe it to their victims.
©1999, William Westmiller
California Coordinator of the Republican Liberty Caucus
Past Candidate for the Republican Nomination for (24 CA) Congress
Former National Secretary, California Chairman, Libertarian Party
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