Skip to content or view screen version

USA Syndrome (or Why China Is Suddenly Bad)

Keith Farnish | 27.02.2008 16:34 | Analysis | Climate Chaos | Repression | World

It is often said that the greatest fear of both the politician and the businessman is that somewhere, someone is doing something that he has no control over. Witness the remarkable drive to acquire cheap oil sources by the USA (Iraq – by war, Chad – by bribery, Venezuela – by engineering a coup) and China (Sudan – by bribery, Indonesia – bribery again). Witness the rush to file new patents in everything and anything: 1.7 million in 2005, up from less than 1.1 million in 1995. Anyone would think that something bad was about to happen to the global economy.

I jest, of course. The economy is fine: the rich people are still getting richer and the effects of continuing political repression, and the climate change due in the next couple of decades will only hit those poor people with flies on their eyes, and mud on their feet. Isn’t capitalism grand?

But something is changing, and it only becomes obvious when you listen to the messages very carefully indeed.

The transparent and often brutal rhetoric of the USA in environmental conferences up to and including Bali has, in the past, revealed the power of the commercial lobbyists and the way that many politicians in the USA think. It’s pretty standard stuff: first it was utter denial of the science of climate change; then it was the refusal to commit to targets which might force the commercial dinosaurs to make dramatic changes in the way they operate; and now it is the influx of corporate and political greenwash which is using all the tools in the advertisers’ box of tricks to convince the public that the problem is being dealt with and everything can carry on as normal.

The US government (along with, notably, the British government) has kept a pretty low profile when it comes to human rights abuses. The USA is one of the largest manufacturers of torture equipment in the world, exporting their wares to any government that might wish to keep troublemakers in check (I use the word “troublemaker” in the loosest possible sense), and as well as their armed forces having a history of unprovoked abuse amongst the people of occupied territories, they resolutely refuse to allow the International Criminal Court to try any of their citizens.

The motivation for this is clearly that both the businesses and the politicians want to carry on doing things the same way as always, and heaven help anyone who dares to get in their way!

So why, in June 2007 did George Bush say:

"Another dissident I will meet here [in the Czech Republic] is Rebiyah Kadeer of China, whose sons have been jailed in what we believe is an act of retaliation for her human rights activities. The talent of men and women like Rebiyah is the greatest resource of their nations, far more valuable than the weapons of their army or their oil under the ground. America calls on every nation that stifles dissent to end its repression, to trust its people, and to grant its citizens the freedom they deserve."

And why, in January 2008 did he say:

"Let us create a new international clean technology fund, which will help developing nations like India and China make greater use of clean energy sources. And let us complete an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases. This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride. "

Now, with sharp light being played upon on the environmental and human rights abuses of China, a script more subtle, more clever, yet far more sinister than the simple “business as usual” theme is being written; a script which could buy the USA many more years with which to carry on its destructive activities. In the press and on the televisions of the USA future Chinese carbon emissions are being cast as demons from which we must all run screaming: they must be cut down, and the cuts must be deep. In the media, the Beijing Olympics is becoming a clarion call for journalists to explore and condemn the numerous human rights abuses carried out by the Chinese government.

Look a little closer and you realise that this isn't about creating level playing fields; it is about ensuring that the existing economic super power remains in power.

In 1990, the GDP (effectively the national wealth) of China was just under $1.9 trillion, or just 26% of the GDP of the United States. In 2005, the Chinese powerhouse economy, largely driven by exports to the USA and Europe, had grown to be worth 66% of that of the USA, despite the fact that the USA economy had grown by an impressive 56% in that period.

The United States government has gone into self-preservation mode against the might of China. This is nothing to do with concern for the planet, or for human rights: if it were then the USA would be cutting its own sky-high emissions to the bone rather than propping up its ailing economy with entreaties to buy more stuff, and the corporations of the USA would be criticising a regime that locks anyone away who dares speak out rather than eagerly sponsoring the Beijing Olympics.

The actions of the US government in calling for changes to other countries human rights records merely reflects their own desire to draw attention away from their own appalling record at home and around the world, and thus protect the good name of the USA. Who would want to buy goods from a country that abuses its people?

The actions of the US government in calling for half-hearted climate agreements merely reflect the corporations’ own interests in the face of potential environmental scrutiny: they try to look good, to appear environmentally responsible when in fact they are just protecting their bottom line. Who would want to buy goods from a company that contributes to climate change?

There is no doubt at all that China has to make fundamental changes to both its atrocious treatment of innocent people, and its exponential growth in climate changing greenhouse gases. There is also no doubt that the business and political leaders of the USA are being hopelessly hypocritical in so many areas by making out that China is the world’s pariah when, in fact, they are simply scared that China may one day run the world’s economy.

Keith Farnish
- Homepage: