Thursday, August 07, 2008

Our thoughts on China

Scott and I have been interested in the rise of China as a superpower for a while now. For me it actually started in the spring of 1998 when I learned that China will be the most powerful country in the world by 2020. The coming Olympics have caused China to be an even more frequent topic of discussion for us lately. Last night we watched an ABC special called "China Inside Out" with Bob Woodruff. Here's a short Washington Post article that talks a bit more about the special. The special really reinforced what Scott and I think about China and the Chinese government's contributions to both world development and the degradation of the environment and human rights world wide. Not only this, but it also caused us to begin thinking more about the part that China plays in our own economy.

The Chinese government has purchased 1.2 trillion dollars in US Treasury bills, which basically means that they are loaning money to us to finance a significant portion of our government's budget. The wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are the biggest portion of our annual budget right now at 36% of our spending. China loans us money because they want to help keep our economy going while we spend money in Iraq. As long as our economy remains strong (and I would argue that it is still strong -- has it gotten any easier to find a parking place at Wal-Mart?) we American citizens can continue to buy cheap products made in...guess where? You got it! China!

According to this Washington Post article, we're projected to spend around 3 trillion dollars in Iraq. Since China is loaning us a good bit of that money, we're going to owe them eventually. I'm no expert, but I believe we're supposed to buy back those T-bills at some point. Do we really want to put ourselves in that position? Owing that much money to a country whose population growth and movement from farming villages to big cities is so significant that it is putting enormous stress on the environment (both in China and around the world)? Not to mention the human rights abuses both perpetrated and conveniently overlooked by the Chinese government.

As you might have seen in the ABC special last night, China is heavily involved in the development of many African nations. China is able to contribute significantly in Africa by overlooking the corruption that is common in African governments. China loans or gives money to those governments with no strings attached. We are not spending as much in Africa because our money has restrictions -- we'll only give it to governments who govern the way that we want them to. China doesn't care, as long as African economies are growing and Chinese companies are winning contracts to assist in that growth. Meanwhile, the citizens of African countries continue to live in poverty, to live in fear, to live without clean water or proper food or medial care. They live in countries where bribes are the norm, where women and children are raped, where men are tortured, where genocide is common, and where wild animals are held hostage for political gain.

Maybe China's strategy won't lead to more human rights abuses in Africa. Maybe as the Chinese government helps African countries develop better infrastructure and more successful economies those countries will also develop less corrupt governments. Or maybe they won't. The point is, China doesn't care as long as they benefit from the development of Africa.

So, if you haven't noticed, all of this stuff makes me angry. And I'm not one to sit on my anger. Unfortunately, it becomes part of me. It messes with my chemistry. To deal with anger like this, I write about it, and then I change my own personal habits in a way that will help me feel like I am contributing to a solution. What Scott and I have decided to do is stop buying products that are made in China. Yikes, I know. Stop buying from China? Impossible, you say. Yes, kind of like eating meat that doesn't come from a CAFO. A little like sending my kids to school without the full CDC-recommended course of vaccines. Yeah, you could say that when I really believe in something, I like to test boundaries. Scott wants to see how long we can go without buying a product that is made in China; I want to give up Chinese products forever. I can see us managing this boycott for a long time, with the exception of our computers. We're Mac users and all Apple products (as far as I know) are made in China. I will not give up my Apple products, so that may be our one exception. I'd also like to stop buying products from countries where China is investing in factories (like Cambodia), but I think that's a bit too much to ask. Plus, Cambodians really need our business.

Scott and I think of ourselves as people who like to buy a few high quality products rather than lots of cheap stuff, so I don't think this boycott will be impossible to maintain. What might be the hardest is that we buy a lot of stuff online and don't always know where it was made until it arrives at our doorstep. We'll keep you posted on how the boycott goes.

With our boycott, am I trying to single-handedly keep the Chinese government from becoming the most powerful government in the world? No. In fact, I welcome their growth, their development, their investment in the development of impoverished nations. Do I want to contribute to China's rise if they're doing it in a way that compromises our environment or encourages corruption? No. Would I be absolutely thrilled if my children could have an opportunity to learn Mandarin? Yes, absolutely. There's no getting around the fact that China will soon be more powerful than America, and I don't have a problem with that. My children are going to raise their children in a world dominated by the Chinese. I just hope China's effect can be positive.

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