What Say You? China, Human Rights, and American Business

The Beijing Olympics have raised awareness of the ongoing trampling of human rights by the Chinese government. Some have suggested ways of using this occasion to send a message to China. But the Chinese government knows of our disapproval. So the problem is not awareness but action. At the same time, American corporations, large and small, have invested heavily in China.

The United States government has not imposed an embargo on American business activity in China. And maybe that’s best. But here’s an alternative. Suppose the U.S. government stipulated that American companies are free to do business in China as long as they discontinue business in the United States, until human rights grievances in China are addressed. American companies would then be in the position of making the decision about whether to do business in China. As a result, free market activity would create pressure on China to move toward real democracy, without direct government action on the part of the United States.

  1. Could the United States government actually impose and enforce such a restriction?
  2. Would this sort of restriction be compatible with American democratic values?
  3. Would a restriction of this kind be an effective deterrent of human rights violations (the idea being that American corporations would put pressure on China to revise its practices as a condition for doing business there)?

What say you?

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

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