China as a continent representing the 3rd largest land mass is unrivalled in population with just over of 1.3 billion residents. The world has watched in amazement the huge growth spurt of the past decade at almost 4 times that of the developed world. In the post Mao era there has been a dramatic improvement in its overall economic condition, from poverty that befell its citizen under that domination of terror to hope for the future. This growth has fuelled the recovery in the west and been the catalyst for improvements in commodity prices, an improved outlook for those traditional industries under invested during the dot com boom. But the boom in imports from China has caused severe dislocation in many industries particularly in the manufacturing heartland of the USA.
The present trade agreements currently don’t include provisions for dislocated workers to be trained or engaged in alternative industries and there needs to be a significant improvement in planning if all are to share equitably in the benefits of globilisation.Worse still is the situation where the work undertaken in China is undertaken in a sub standard environment of safety, with poor labour conditions representing misery and despair.
So the free trade agreements that promise much must have inbuilt buyer ethical standards for the respective countries. This also applies to suppliers setting up operation in China such as Google and Bank of America recently by way of example.
The question to ask is where all of this heading is and is it in the best interest of the world at large?
The responsibility of those negotiating and implementing the free trade agreements is to ensure its Charter provides ethical and human rights responsibilities to the respective countries. Providing these safeguards are included the benefits in free trade do represent a significant overall benefit. The alternative is trade blocks and tariffs, which lead to declines in growth and prosperity.
Hovering over all of this is the Taiwan question and whether any hostilities could bubble to the surface. This is now more likely to only surface after the Olympics but it remains an obstacle that endangers world peace.
So the world is watching with bated breath. The scorecard is a mixed bag.
China is opening up to the world and basic freedom of speech is improving. Human rights abuses continue. Employers don’t always take responsibility for the employees as we would be accustomed and reports confirm of situations where the average construction company worker in the cities is owed 2.5 months wages. Many simply give up and walk off with nothing. Large scale pockets of unemployment exist despite the booming conditions. There is no effective legal system or basic human rights. The remnant of Mao remains, and it appears a long road ahead, with some progress and an opening up of ever increasing access to other countries.
The first term of office for the Bush administration has seen a “go it alone" type approach to managing relations with Beijing. But it appears by to- days headline Bush is enlisting the aid of Australia as a key role player in engaging approaches to China on a multitude of things.
It seems the key to the future is to pressure China towards improved standards of human rights and in opening upon her economy to adhere to ethical standards on working conditions for its citizens.
There is no doubt China will eventually emerge as a super power. The task ahead is to help her regain a human rights perspective and to encourage the great culture that was nearly destroyed by Mao.