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The Market Idol

Sep
7
2005

The attraction and mythos of the Chinese market is an old one. In the 19th century, it was invoked as a rationale for the American Open Door policy: if China was left uncolonized, its enormous markets could not be closed to American commerce. It was also a rationale for the Opium Wars, fought by the British and French to force the ailing Manchu dynasty to allow all manner of trade – even profound social corrosives – into the country. Finally, the enormous “spiritual” market of China made missionary work there a major focus of American overseas prosetylization efforts.
A near-century of war and repression put an end to the dream of a massive and enduring (and quiescent) Chinese market; but the dream is now resurrected. Morever, it is a dream more rational and realistic that it ever was in earlier days. China is huge, its infrastructure is emerging, and unlike before, it is largely in control of its own terms of trade. This is a story that has been told often enough in recent years: companies are thus flocking to do business in China.
Chinese business comes with a unique price. China is no longer the genocide-minded slave state of Mao’s era, but it remains a brutal tyranny. The price of doing business with China is, particularly in the information technology realm, the aiding and abetting of that tyranny. And thus we see Microsoft performing Beijing’s censorship for it; thus we see Yahoo directly responsible for the imprisonment of a journalist; thus we see the following from Reporters Sans Frontiers:

This use of new technologies to repress cyberdissent would obviously have been impossible without the support of such international companies as Websense, Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems, Microsoft and Nortel Networks, which have all at one point or another traded or cooperated with the Chinese state apparatus.

We have seen in the Katrina catastrophe, where the corporate response has outstripped the governmental in almost every way, that the private sector is largely a force for good in a free nation. But in an unfree nation, it will seek its own efficiencies devoid of moral calculus: to the point that the dot.coms which were born and thrived in the Silicon Valley culture of democratic capitalism are all too ready to render themselves tools of murderous repression. It is easy for us to state that we ought to impose sanctions upon American companies that engage with such enthusiasm in the quashing of freedom abroad; their ready and rational response is that the Chinese will merely seek alternative providers – from Europe, India, or at home – leaving their capabilities unhindered, and Americans merely poorer.
This is quite true, and quite convincing – if all one cares for is the money.

Share  Posted by Josh Trevino at 2:48 PM | Permalink

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