Racism Is the Central Hindrance to Democratization


Trump has masterfully channeled and capitalized on the collective anger of a conservative white popular base who feels abandoned by the G.O.P. Their anger is partially rooted in the significant economic losses they have suffered for the last 40 years (which they erroneously blame on liberals). But these pale in comparison to the psychological losses they experience when they see a black family living in the White House, Black Lives Matter organizers standing up to unjust police violence, Latino/a immigrants fighting for family reunification and an end to deportations, and Muslim-Americans building mosques in America.

Trump’s supporters use metaphors like “brown tide,” “dangerous waters” and “war” to describe America’s cultural and demographic shifts. They see Trump as the commander who will help them restore America to their preferred order, a leader who will rebuild their sense of security and superiority.

It does not matter that these ideas and sentiments are factually baseless. As Donald Trump understands all too well, feelings trump facts. The candidate rides this populist anger, proliferates it and politically profits from it. In return, that white popular base wins some psychological wages, compensating for their acute sense of abandonment by a nation that was once theirs. Trump is not unique for the race-baiting strategies he has used to create a populist unity predicated on nationalist and racist sentiments; he is unique only in the fact that he has been unflinchingly transparent about his strategy.

Bernie Sanders’ popular base also feels a deep sense of rage and abandonment by national leaders. This rage is rightly directed toward wealthy elites and multinational corporations who have robbed middle-class Americans of their faith in the dream and starved poor Americans into destitution. Sanders’ base dreams of democratizing resources, restoring the health of our emaciated public goods, ending wars and shrinking the prison industrial complex. Yet they too carefully evade America’s Achilles heel. Every working-class, labor movement in the U.S. has been neutralized because whites have chosen to defend their racial interests over collective economic interests that would also benefit people of color. Sanders’ supporters see racism as a problem, but not the problem that will once again sever the potential of a populist labor movement. This evasion sets them up to repeat history.

There is a way to move people and resources toward America’s democratic ideals. But this requires a confrontation with racism as the central hindrance to American democratization.


Paula Ioanide is an associate professor at the Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity at Ithaca College and the author of “The Emotional Politics of Racism: How Feelings Trump Facts in an Era of Colorblindness.”

Date:      May 12, 2016

Source: The New York Times


Posted in Democratization & Social Movements, Latest Post, Social Justice | Leave a comment

Cornell Scholars examine structures of inequalities


Inequality is one of the central challenges of our time, and with historic increases in income and wealth inequality in recent years, public and scholarly interest in the topic has skyrocketed. The College of Arts & Sciences is a leading center of scholarship on inequality, drawing strength from its many departments and collaborations across the university.

Inequality in the United States takes numerous forms, says Richard Miller, director of the Program on Ethics and Public Life(EPL): unequal political influence, unequal opportunity, the concentration of income and wealth at the top, the persistence of stark racial inequalities, and inequalities in education. These factors reinforce each other, challenging those who seek policies that help meet currently unmet needs and reduce burdens of poverty.

“The social scientific approach to studying inequality dovetails really nicely with the humanities,” says Kim Weeden, director of the Center for the Study of Inequality (CSI), Jan Rock Zubrow ’77 Professor in the Social Sciences, and chair of sociology. “Understanding the sources of inequality, how it affects different groups of people, our political institutions, our economy, is very much in line with Cornell’s value of doing research that matters. It ties in with the public engagement mission.”

Adds Weeden, “all human societies have been characterized by some sort of inequality. Even many hunter gatherers had nearly complete gender segregation and resource scarcity. Inequality has always been with us, as much a part of the human experience as love and death.”

Asking Why

Moral questions of what should be done about inequality are those that humanists are well equipped to illuminate, such as the moral importance of reducing inequality of political influence and the extent to which the best-off should be taxed to help others, says Miller, the Wyn and William Y. Hutchinson Professor in Philosophy

The facts have people alarmed, says Miller, such as the stagnation of median income and the dramatic increase in CEO salaries (from 30 times the wages of the average worker in the mid-1980’s to 300 times now).

“But why are these inequalities important? Reflection on why we should care helps people reach across political divides in discussing what should be done. We have a moral responsibility to seek shared moral convictions that yield yardsticks for judging proposals for change,” says Miller.

This semester the Ethics and Public Life program brought six leading inequality scholars to Cornell for the “Inequalities: How Deep? Why? What Should Be Done?” lecture series. Based in the Philosophy Department, EPL promotes interdisciplinary learning about morally central questions concerning public policies and social, political, and economic processes. As part of this interdisciplinarity, Miller worked with sociologists, political scientists and economists throughout Cornell in planning the series; he notes the special help of CSI in the series’ success. Faculty and graduate students from eleven departments took part in workshops and informal discussions with the speakers. The public lectures were attended by large audiences, sometimes over two hundred, and were discussed in a new set of small-group discussion courses, “Discussions of Justice.”

“Our work in EPL is a good example of how the humanities can provide context and depth for broader conversations,” says Miller. He is currently at work on a series of essays that will form a book, “Ethics of Social Democracy.”

“Some philosophers think government should meet a broad array of needs that include but go way beyond helping poor people,” says Miller. “What are the moral principles we can appeal to in order to justify use of a state which doesn’t’ always benefit everyone?  But if you base beliefs on moral principles alone you are a fanatic. And while politics is about forcing people to do things, there should always be a moral basis for that forcing.”

Crime, Poverty, and the Criminal Justice System

Under Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in the 1960’s, the root causes of crime and poverty were seen as embedded in legacies of racial oppression and “blocked opportunities,” says Julilly Kohler-Hausmann, assistant professor of history. But in the 1970’s the notion that crime and poverty are the result of deviant, maladjusted individuals or a cultural pathology became ascendant. Punishment was the logical response to such a belief.

Kohler-Hausmann is a member of an interdisciplinary team at the Institute for Social Sciences working on the collaborative project, “The Causes, Consequence and Future of Mass Incarceration in the United States,” led by Peter Enns, associate professor of government. The team, which includes members from the College of Arts & Sciences and College of Human Ecology, is examining the factors leading to mass incarceration and the circumstances that shape the risk, severity and duration of one’s contact with the criminal justice system. The goal is to help inform the policy debate about whether and how to reform the U.S. criminal justice system.

The decline of the welfare state and its social programs and the rise of mass incarceration were connected, says Kohler-Hausmann. Research shows that there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of money spent on social welfare and that spent on the penal system.

In the U.S. the expansion of the penal system saw a dramatic retrenchment of particular social programs; while social insurance programs persisted throughout the last half century, programs targeting marginalized populations declined precipitously. The value of cash support to poor parents through Aid to Families with Dependent Children(AFDC) fell by half between the 1970s and 1990s, where Social Security benefits were indexed to inflation and maintained their value. Populations and communities most dramatically affected by the expansion of the penal system have also seen dramatic reductions in state support.

Kohler-Hausmann is examining the historical processes that produced these changes. “I view it as the result of broad-based struggles over the causes of social inequality,” she says. “During the 1970s, debates escalated over the causes of social marginality and the state’s capacity — or responsibility — to resolve them. My book is chronicling the ways that enacting punitive drug, crime, and welfare policy helped produce answers to these questions—answers that explained disorder and inequality as the work of incorrigible, racialized deviants, such as ‘drug pushers,’ ‘welfare queens,’ and criminals.”

How we understand race and ethnic identity affects how we understand social and economic inequality, says Kohler-Hausmann. “One of the vehicles for undermining social programs was fusing them with racist characterization of African Americans, who were actually often the minority of the people benefiting from these programs. Today, even as we see a movement to reform mass incarceration, there are still punitive laws being passed about welfare.”

Increasingly punitive social and criminal policy has had broad effects on our democracy. Research by Jamila Michener, assistant professor of government, shows how government policies have an effect on political engagement and depress voices in the greater polity. Recipients of social welfare programs also forgo rights; those receiving AFDC assistance can be drug tested , have their houses searched, or limitations placed on where they can spend money. Kohler-Hausmann explains that “Policies that degrade the civic standing of the poor make it harder for them to be heard in public dialogues over inequality.”

Anna Haskins, assistant professor of sociology, has shown that having a father who is incarcerated perpetuates inequality across generations by affecting how ready children are for school, emotionally and behaviorally. She finds that boys, in particular, who have imprisoned fathers are already behind when they arrive in kindergarten at age five, and are more likely to be placed in special education, held back a grade, or continue to experience socio-emotional problems by age nine.

Systemic Surveillance

Professor of History Edward Baptist sees a connection between the research he’s conducting on runaway American slaves and current issues with the criminal justice system. Did the efforts to catch runaway slaves influence attitudes and law enforcement in the U.S relating to blacks?

“Black people’s movements through and into spaces is something that is constantly noted in the 19th century as acceptable or not acceptable,” he explains. “They’re understood as a problem, especially someone whose name wasn’t known or who wasn’t acting in an expected way. That’s still an issue for us in our country today. Blacks constantly encounter the attitude of ‘you don’t belong here,’ such as when they’re followed in a store or stopped by police. Do black people belong in these spaces, or are they in effect fugitives? And how much of this is created by policy and how much by culture?”

Baptist’s latest project looks at the way surveillance – controlling space and activities – is a systemic part of our culture that has been carried forward from the institution of slavery. “The white population was actively involved in maintaining the slavery regime by policing Black movements through space, seeing them as suspicious, a problem that had to be investigated,” Baptist explains. “Black people’s movements through and into spaces were something that 19th-century white America constantly monitored, and saw as either acceptable or not acceptable. African Americans were surveilled, and constantly seen as potential threats–especially those whose names weren’t known, or who didn’t seem to be working like slaves to add to white wealth. Some very similar patterns seem to persist in our our country today. On a large scale it’s easy to see that. For example, police are much less likely to find contraband in a Black driver’s car, yet they far more frequently stop Black travelers’ cars–because they ‘look suspicious.’ How much is this policy, and how much is this culture – are Black people seen as belonging in these spaces, or are they effectively still seen as fugitives?”

Another example, says Baptist, is racialized law enforcement that makes a huge investment in policing areas perceived as “drug corners.” “This is very expensive policy, yet one publicized by the news media as if it is the essence of policing. But the policy is more about controlling black activity in space than it is about preventing crimes against black lives. In contrast, the investment in homicide detectives where most of the murders taking place in areas like South Los Angeles is very low.”

Capitalism and Inequality

The lower 40% of income earners in this country carry significant debt; if they own a home, it is often heavily mortgaged. Such debt creates intense pressure to find and keep a job. But being out of work is a frequent experience for people in a capitalist economy. The result is an inequity: the pressure to be hired doesn’t correspond to the pressure to hire. This raises a moral question, says Miller: should people who benefit from advantages in bargaining power be required to redistribute their wealth? Is it exploitation of workers, when the power of the exchange is all on one side?

One contribution of historic humanities is to stretch people’s viewpoints by showing how assumptions change over time, says Miller. One example is that of wage labor as an evil: Abraham Lincoln regarded wage labor as something to liberate yourself from: every man should have the means to be his own boss, with no one above him. “Some at the time even viewed workers as worse off than slaves, because if times were bad slaves were still fed and housed, whereas workers just got fired,” adds Miller.

“In my Black Radical Tradition class, I teach about that political tradition of thinkers and activists who always said that you cannot have racial justice without wholesale economic redistribution,” says Russell Rickford, assistant professor of history. “You don’t just racialize a group because you don’t like them. You racialize a group in order to expropriate their land, their resources, their wealth. That’s how the incredible opulence and wealth of this society was generated, with 500 years of uncompensated or super-exploited labor. Modern capitalism is an inherently racialized project. You cannot have any kind of racial reconciliation or racial justice without wholesale redistribution. South Africa had the end of apartheid and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but there was no redistribution, so it has the same kind of economic structure as before, with the same structural inequalities.”

Notes Weeden, “there are all sorts of institutions in any country or labor market that protects some types of workers or in some cases protect owners of capital. In the last 20 years, there have been numerous institutional changes that have protected workers at the top of the income distribution while eliminating protections to those on the bottom.”

Weeden’s research looks at the institutional sources of income inequality, as well as the gender gap in earnings, such as how the increase in hourly wages for long work hours has affected the motherhood wage penalty and the fatherhood wage premium.

One example Weeden points to are various bottlenecks in the educational system, some stemming from inadequate primary schools, which prevent the supply of college-educated workers from keeping up with demand. “Those who do get a college degree benefit, indirectly, because their wages are actually higher than what they would be if there were no bottlenecks in the educational system,” explains Weeden.

“The contradiction is that what accompanies capitalist expansion is often deepening inequality and declining freedom. For example, the expansion of the cotton economy resulted in a deepening of slavery and a stripping away of freedoms,” says Baptist, who is part of the History of Capitalism Initiative and author of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” (Basic Books, 2014).

“When enslaved African Americans ran away they were trying to rewrite the story of capitalism and their relationship with this expanding capitalist system. They were making a decision that their relationship to capitalism was not going to be that of property, but that of a wage worker. This was the most effective resistance in the history of resistance to the deepening inequality in the U.S.,” says Baptist, because of the driving influence of those who escaped slavery on the abolitionist movement and the coming of the Civil War.

Residential Segregation

“Policymakers across the political spectrum seem to believe that, aside from random acts of racial discrimination, we more or less live in a world where residential segregation is a reflection of individual choice,” says Noliwe Rooks, associate professor of Africana studies, adding that “the racial divide is either not considered to be very bad, or is now taken for granted.”

But in fact this this attitude is wrong, says Rooks: studies show that metro areas with the highest levels of segregation have the largest health inequities, resulting in shorter life spans for black and Latino residents of these areas. And research has shown that two-thirds of the difference between test scores and grades for black and Latino students in the top 30 U.S. schools could be predicted based on the racial segregation of the students’ home neighborhoods.

“We know from 30 years of research that test scores and college-level success are far lower for students of color who attend racially segregated schools,” Rooks says. “And of course we know that schools today remain segregated because neighborhoods remain segregated.”

Rooks’ new seminar, Race and Social Entrepreneurship: Food Justice and Urban Reform,  examines the issue of food justice in Ithaca and surrounding areas, which is often related to residential segregation, and explores innovative approaches for bringing about social equity and justice in relation to food availability, access and sustainability for those on a fixed or low income. The course is both a University Course, and part of an Engaged Cornell Curriculum Grant awarded to Africana Studies. Students in the service learning course will work in collaboration with senior citizens who live at a local residential facility, McGraw House, and are on a fixed income in order to explore both barriers and workable solutions to food access, availability and affordability. In addition, students in the course will work with with local farmers, non-profits and community activists in order to learn about area organizations and experiments intervening in the issues of food justice.

“Our goal is understand how sustainable development can be achieved in the context of racism and social inequality, with a focus on contemporary and historical efforts to build lasting institutions or movements,” says Rooks.

Minoring in Inequality Studies

Cornell offers a minor in inequality studies, which is housed in CSI and the department of sociology. The minor gives students a firm grounding in the literature on inequality, through such large and popular courses as Social Inequality, which gives an overview of theoretical and empirical scholarship on inequality in the social sciences, and Controversies about Inequality, a University Course that focuses on contemporary social scientific and policy debates on inequality. The minor requires students to take courses from multiple social science disciplines as well as offers electives in the humanities, and it allows them to tailor their studies to focus on different aspects of inequality, such as a track on ethics and social justice.

The minor has been very successful and is growing in popularity as inequality has entered public discourse again, says Weeden. Since 2004, the minor has graduated more than 600 students, and 225 enrolled in AY 2015-16. About half of the minors are in Arts & Sciences.

“The Inequality Studies minor was the catalyst that fostered my passion towards social justice, for which I will always be grateful, says Allen Fung ’07. “After studying in-depth the various forms of inequality (racial, gender, socio-economic, etc.) present throughout American history, I knew that I wanted to be part of the effort in correcting these various inequalities.”

Winnie Tong ’14 echoes that sentiment: “as a woman of color from Brooklyn, I have gained so much through the Inequality Studies minor because it allowed me to learn more about the structural and systematic issues within our society. Although I might not have found all the solutions to the larger issues we discussed in class, the minor definitely played a significant part in steering me onto a path of social justice and working with communities of color.”


By:         Linda B. Glaser

Date:      May 10, 2016

Source:  The College of Arts and Sciences, Cornell University


Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Perceptions of inequality drive protestors’ motives, says IDS study


According to academic literature, civic unrest is driven by rising inequalities. But despite considerable reductions in inequality over the last decade, the numbers of Latin Americans taking to the streets to protest has soared. Why does this paradox exist? A new IDS study reveals that the real motivations for protest relate not to absolute levels of inequality but to individual’s perceptions of disparities and their beliefs around how income should be distributed.

DS researchers analysed what motivations led individuals to mobilise and protest in 18 Latin America countries between 2010 and 2014.

The results show that individual participation in protests was largely motivated by perceptions of inequality which affected their beliefs about income distribution.

The results point to the important role of government policy in affecting perceptions of inequality and ensuring social and political stability.


Mismatch between expectations and perceived social change fuels dissent

The study explains how despite large reductions of inequality, driven by efforts to raise incomes among the poorest groups, people across Latin America remained dissatisfied with their governments, levels of corruption, and the quality of institutions and public services.

These were issues that affected predominantly the middle classes: the employed, students and educated people.

Economic conditions also mattered. Individual participation in protests was related to people’s perceptions about their current and past economic conditions, as well as by changes in national economic conditions. Social relations and networks were crucial to mobilising people’s anger and grievances into protests.

Overall, inequality reduction and economic growth have been insufficient to shift the vast majority of people’s perceptions and beliefs, and have not matched overall expectations. Social discontent, in turn, has turned into collective protests.


Lessons for policy

The research highlights the role of policy in affecting perceptions of inequality and mitigating the risk of civil unrest. Findings indicate that redistribution via cash transfers to the poorest reduce the probability of protests of the poorest, but the low quality of public services and high tax burdens have eroded the support of political institutions by the middle class. The recent choices of governments across Latin America to focus redistribution mainly on the poor (and excluding the middle class) have generated large gains in terms of poverty and inequality reduction. However, these choices may have also led to unintended consequences in terms of social and political stability when economic growth has started to slow down.

There is large scope for better government performance in terms of addressing the quality of public services as well as to improve the functioning of government institutions and reduce corruption.

All these are key factors explaining the mismatch between perceptions of inequality, distributive beliefs and absolute levels of inequality across Latin America, particularly among the protesting middle-classes.


Building the evidence base

The research fills a gap in existing literature on protests and social mobilisation by focusing on motivations at the individual level that may lead people to mobilise and protest. It also advances emerging literature on the importance of perceptions of inequality and distributive beliefs by showing not only how perceptions of inequality and distributive beliefs are formed, but also their consequences in terms of citizen mobilisation and civil protests.

There is surprisingly limited and ambiguous empirical evidence on the relationship between inequality, government policy and civil protests. This paper contributes to this area of research providing new policy lessons by showing how improvements in the quality of public services may be as important as direct social transfers in reducing the probability of individuals participating in collective protests.


Date:      May 10. 2016

Source: Institute of Development Studies


Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Global inequality under the microscope


New book puts spotlight on world’s wealthiest one per cent.

The ‘Global Top one per cent’ — the lucky 70 million people who have captured a massive share of the new wealth generated in the world economy over the past 30 years — must be squirming over their Bollinger about the public enemy status they are beginning to acquire worldwide.

All the more so with the publication of a hard-hitting new book by the Serbian-American economist Branko Milanovic.

Global Inequality reveals that the main losers of the past three decades of globalisation have been the western middle classes.

No wonder then that politics is turning so populist and pear-shaped in so many countries.

In fact, Milanovic quite persuasively puts inequality worldwide at the heart of a wide range of ills, as threatening our economies and threatening our long-cherished democracies too.

Alongside these main losers, the main gainers of globalisation have not just been the ‘Top one per cent’, and the 1,500 billionaires worldwide at their heart.

They have also been Asia’s emergent middle class — led by China of course. And this has led to a strange outcome; while inequality inside individual countries has widened, inequality between countries has narrowed — and strikingly.

This leads Milanovic to some tough conclusions; the shift in economic power away from the rich west to Asia has been strong and will continue; the economies of the west face decades of stagnation ahead, with their middle classes hurting the most; we see the emergence of a “global plutocracy” built around the interests of the ‘Top one per cent’, which will compromise our democracies, and possibly trigger populist and “localist” backlashes.

We can see this already in the US with Donald Trump. In the UK, with the right-wing call for exit from the European Union and this week in the election of Davao Mayor Duterte as the Philippines’ new president. Our Occupy movement and youthful unrest are likely part of the same phenomenon.

Milanovic sees China’s emergence since the late 1970s as an “epochal change” and China “the great income equaliser.”

In 1970 US GDP per capita was 20 times that of China. It is now less than four times.

But we now see a perverse reversal about to occur; for the past three decades, rising wealth and incomes in China have provided the main force behind narrowing the wealth gap between rich and poor nations.

Average incomes for China’s middle have tripled in the two decades from 1988. But now average incomes in China are coming close to the world average. Once incomes pass the global average, then their continued rise will actually make inequality worse, not reduce it.

To keep global inequality from getting worse, we will need to see incomes strongly rise in other huge poor countries, like Indonesia and Brazil — and of course India.

We might be a long time waiting.

Milanovic identifies different distinct forms of inequality: the first he calls “existential inequality”, and it arises from the sheer luck of where you are born.

Simply by being born in the US rather than the Congo, your income will on average be 93 times higher. This means that 12 per cent of America’s population live gilded lives among the ‘Top one per cent’, along with nine per cent of Japanese or Swiss. By the way, to be in this Top one per cent, your average after-tax income needs to be over $71,000 a year — which puts a very large number of you reading this article in the ‘Top one per cent’.

This compares with the global median income of $1,400. So it is easy to see how existential wealth feeds itself; a one per cent rise in income for someone earning $71,000 would be $710 — equal to a 50 per cent jump for someone earning the median income.

He then identifies “legal inequality,” by which most legal systems entrench the privileges and advantages of social elites.

Then there is income and wealth inequality, by which inherited wealth buys access to the best education and to property wealth that protects and preserves privilege.

Here, he identifies an interesting perversity — that more women in the workforce, on higher incomes, are actually aggravating inequality — because a self-selection process tends to mean that wealthy, well-educated women partner with wealthy, well-educated men — making such couples even more elite.

And there is “meritocratic inequality” — where political commitment to supposedly-equalising meritocratic arrangements actually aggravates inequality.

He asks what is the merit of getting everyone to start at the same starting line, if one competitor has a Ferrari, and another a bicycle.

It is these inequalities inside individual countries that account for the widening rich-versus-poor gap in so many rich western economies and a hollowing out of the politically-moderating middle classes, that is putting democracy in danger.

As the super-rich use wealth to secure political influence, so politicians respond mainly to the concerns of the rich, sowing the seeds of “dictatorships of the propertied class” disguised in the garb of democracy.

He sees producers giving priority to luxury goods and governments cutting welfare spending, instead of giving priority to policing, and infrastructure-building.

Whether you agree with his politics or not, the statistical support for Milanovic’s story is as compelling as that garnered by Pinketty last year.

He is persuasive that political concern about rising inequality is more than a passing fad, and that we need to think about narrowing the gaps, inside countries in particular, if we are going to avoid very ugly social and political developments worldwide.

His solutions; first ensure equal access to good education and widespread property ownership — uncontroversial, except it is easy to see even here in Hong Kong how hard it is to achieve this.

Secondly, more controversially, he calls for lower obstacles to migration and to international labour movement. He argues that this would be massively significant in reducing inequality between countries.

Again, governments around the world facing the present political pickle linked with global recession and massive migration into Europe from Syria and Iraq, are likely to run a mile from Milanovic’s recommendation.

That of course does not make him wrong.


David Dodwell is Executive Director of the Hong Kong-APEC Trade Policy Group.

Date:      May 13, 2016

Source:  South China Morning Post


Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

China Pressures Europe to Stay Silent on Human Rights


China’s attempts to export its censorship and authoritarianism raise serious questions for all European countries.

China’s belligerent diplomacy in Europe has been in the spotlight this week after a German lawmaker who chairs the Bundestag’s Human Rights Committee was refused access to China after he criticized rights violations in Tibet. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said he was “not welcome” because of his support for “Tibetan independence.”

German Christian Democrat politician Michael Brand, who had intended to travel with the Parliamentary Committee to Tibet in late May, was robust in his response to the visa ban when he said: “We can’t just accept it when authoritarian regimes like China, Russia or Turkey carry out censorship and oppression, certainly not if they want to export these methods — and to Germany too. When it comes to human rights, pussyfooting around doesn’t pay off. Human rights are not an internal affair of the state of China.”

China’s attempts to export its methods of censorship and authoritarianism raise serious questions for all European countries about whether their approach has contributed to Beijing’s aggressive diplomacy.

When governments adopt a softer approach on human rights and Tibet, their country’s potential for negotiation on important strategic issues becomes more constricted. Going to great lengths to accommodate the Chinese leadership’s sensitivities at a time when Chinese President Xi Jinping is presiding over the most eviscerating crackdown on civil society in a generation weakens a country’s leverage instead of strengthening it.

Demands from China to Western democracies, which have included telling prime ministers not to meet the Dalai Lama, or to withdraw criticism, as with this example, are aimed at reducing their negotiating strength, and asserting Beijing’s own agenda for greater gains.

Some countries in Europe, such as the United Kingdom, have acceded to such demands and kowtowed to such a significant degree that they have faced a major public backlash for doing so. In the UK, even those involved in doing business with China expressed concern about the British government’s overly accommodating approach to Xi’s state visit last year. James McGregor, a business consultant with operations in China, said: “If you act like a panting puppy, the object of your attention is going to think they have got you on a leash.”

Sometimes the accommodating approach arises from short-term considerations of political expediency, rather than from an informed position. There is no credible evidence of significant economic loss when governments do risk Chinese wrath and take a position on, for instance, whom they can and cannot meet, whether it is the Dalai Lama or anyone else. For instance, when Norway did not apologize for the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, there was no evidence of any serious economic consequences – indeed, bilateral trade significantly increased, according to an analysis in The Diplomat.

Experienced China hands understand that the Beijing leadership will seek to frame the debate in its own terms, amplifying issues that are less important in order to compel concessions elsewhere. In the case of the row with the Bundestag Committee Chair, the official statement from the Foreign Ministry deliberately blamed his support for “Tibet independence” – although the issue of the status of Tibet has never entered the equation. Virtually all Western governments acknowledge that Tibet is a part of the PRC, and the Dalai Lama’s position is that he is seeking a genuine autonomy for Tibet under the auspices of the PRC.

And yet even so, Chinese diplomats have had some success in pushing governments to adopt specific language on the “Tibet independence” question, perhaps with a view to closing down future possible support for the Tibetan people. The UK, France and Denmark have all caved in this respect, giving the unnecessary addition to their official position that they “do not support Tibetan independence.”

It is nothing new that China attempts to use economic and commercial interests to enforce submission to its agenda, but it is new that in recent years too many European democracies seem willing to cooperate with this process, sometimes even engaging in pre-emptive capitulation and self-censorship before any demands are even made.


Kai Mueller is Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet in Germany and gives regular briefings to UN Committees and Parliamentary Committees in Germany on Tibet and human rights. 

Date:      May 15, 2016

Source: The Diplomat


Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment
  • Youtube Channel