Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 06:22 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 06:22 | SYDNEY

Political vs. economic rights in China


Sam Roggeveen


9 April 2008 14:46

Peter McCawley and I have been in furious agreement that China's economic progress is itself a massive human rights achievement. We also agree that it is wrong to characterise the debate about Australia's stance on China as one of trade versus human rights, because those rights are not solely political but economic too: making China richer, healthier and better educated is a moral good.

Usually, the emphasis on political rights in China (and the dimunition of economic progress) comes from the political left, but here's a recent example from the neoconservative right, specifically The Weekly Standard. The extract begins with a quote from Zbigniew Brzezinski:

'China is nonetheless becoming a much more open society,' because millions of Chinese 'now have access to satellite television dishes' and 'even to the internet.' Of course, hundreds of millions of Chinese have nothing but dirt. Internet access is policed by the ever-more-sophisticated sentinels of the Great Firewall. And prosperity, while a great public good, is a meager substitute for the greater public good of natural rights such as the freedom to publicly oppose one's government, to legitimate state authority through elections, and to worship God as one sees fit. (Emphasis added)

Really? Meager? This sounds like a very priveleged point of view from an economically comfortable Western perspective. This preference for political over economic liberty is one that increasingly wealthy but politically repressed Chinese and Russians probably don't share. And Iraqis, who have the freedom to vote but little else, might not think it such a good bargain either.