Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Panda-ing to a cruel and brutal regime

Awww, cute! We're going to get pandas at Edinburgh zoo, just down the road from us. Anna is already excited at the prospect and I suspect we'll be taking out a membership for the first time in a few years so we can keep tabs on Tian Tian and Yuanguang when they arrive. Especially if they take to heart the romance Scotland's capital city has to offer and produce some ultra cute baby offspring.

So why am I not jumping for joy? Well, The Burd got there first, and she puts it very well:
The burd is not some political naif.  I get the arguments for economic and diplomatic engagement with China – huge population; if not us; better to encourage reform from the inside etc – and on one level they make sense.  But do we have to?  Are we so unsure of our place in the world and the role we could play that we feel impotent to control and direct our relationships with other nations?
The Chinese regime is brutal with scant regard for human rights. Its citizens don't have the basic liberties we take for granted. They aren't allowed to write blogs criticising their government, and if they protest in the street they literally take their lives in their hands. They don't have the luxury of unrestricted Twitter to talk nonsense on, and when they do a search on Google, they don't get to see anything the Government doesn't want them to. They aren't even allowed the basic human right to decide for themselves how many children they wish to have. And as for conditions in which many of the goods imported here are made - well, have a look at this article which states that the Goverment doesn't do enough about the fact that young kids are put to work in gruelling conditions. 

On the whole, international trade is a good thing, which encourages bonds between nations and gives opportunities for dialogue and understanding. Should we not put our foot down at times, though, and minimise our dealings with governments who treat their people so badly? It would be hard to find a country which is completely sin free. We don't qualify for that accolade ourselves and in centuries past have been guilty of monstrous atrocities.

It seems to me that China is getting too much of its own way on the international scene. It's taken five years of high level diplomatic negotiation for us to get two pandas. Surely we should be more ambitious in our expectations of behaviour in our trading partners.

If I see "made in China" on anything that makes its way into this house, my first emotion is guilt. I'll no doubt be seeing a lot of Tian Tian and Yuanguang over the next few years, and I reckon a bit of me will feel bad every time.

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