With or Without North Korea, There Is No Moral Justification for Trade with China

President Donald Trump has alarmed the Chinese government again with a threat to cut economic ties to nations that do business with North Korea.

China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and a major player in the U.S. market. Trump will face heavy criticism suggesting that no trade warnings will get China to abandon its fellow communist state and North Korea may never react rationally to international pressure. These concerns, like North Korea itself, are not relevant to the real reason America cannot morally justify trade with China: its decades of history committing flagrant human rights abuses, the kind that have gotten countries like Cuba blacklisted from the American market for decades.

Following North Korea’s announcement of yet another nuclear bomb test on Sunday – its sixth such test and, Pyongyang claims, its first successful hydrogen bomb attack – President Trump took to Twitter, scolding South Korea’s leftist government for believing dialogue with the regime was an option and threatening military action against North Korea.

Trump also warned that he would consider punishing countries who deal with North Korea economically:

China comprises 83 percent of North Korea’s export market and buys 85 percent of its imports. No nation comes close to doing as much business with the communist Kim cult than China, though nations like India and Brazil maintain minimal business ties with the country. Such a threat necessarily means the potential that America may cut China out of its market, the largest in the world, altogether.

Many will argue the relative benefits and drawbacks of attempting to shut down trade between China and the United States. Critics will contend that the scale of America’s business ties to China are so astronomical – $648.2 billion in 2016, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative – that ending trade with China is impossible without a devastating effect on both economies. Others will claim such a move will do nothing to deter North Korea, as dictator Kim Jong-un has given the world few assurances he is a rational actor.

Discussions on how trade with China enables North Korea omit the fact that trade with China enables China, a nation that does not simply empower a human rights violator – it is one of the most egregious human rights violators in the world. China’s Communist Party imposes strict limits on the expressive, religious, and journalistic rights of its people. Strict population control laws force women who become pregnant after having two children to undergo forced state abortions. Dissidents have reported being used for medical experiments, cut open, and forced to sell their organs for the government’s profit.

“Torture, disappearances, imprisoning peaceful advocates, destroying religious communities, internet censorship – President Xi has plenty to answer for on these subjects,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, asserted in April. Since then, the U.S. State Department has released reports finding that China severely limits freedom of worship for citizens who do not want to pray at state-controlled temples and churches, whether Buddhist, Christian, or Muslim. Citizens of breakaway regions like Tibet and Xinjiang have their religious practices strictly monitored – China has chosen a state-approved successor to the Dalai Lama and banned Communist Party members from partaking in the Muslim Ramadan fast. China responded to that report by telling America to “mind its own business.”

Christians, meanwhile, face arrest, torture, and beatings if they do not belong to the “Three-Self Patriotic Church,” the state-approved Christian institution. Many are arrested and tortured for starting “house churches,” underground assemblies to study the Bible without a government-approved clergyman adding communist interpretations to their readings. The government has begun stripping churches of publicly visible crosses and bulldozing churches they can no longer control. This week, video surfaced of Chinese police officers beating priests who attempted to prevent the demolition of a church building.

Those who openly identify as anti-communist human rights defenders suffer even worse fates. In one of the most egregious examples, the dissident Liu Xiaobo – the only Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner in history – was allowed to die in prison of cancer after suffering unlawful detention and torture. The Chinese government called those who joined the international outcry in Liu’s defense “losers” and asserted that Liu’s advocacy for free speech made him a criminal.

The left understands there is no moral justification for trade with China. They seem to bring it up every time another rogue state, Cuba, becomes the subject of conversation.

“The White House has repeatedly claimed human rights as the justification for a reversal of our current opening with Cuba. This suggestion is inconsistent at best and disingenuous at worst,” the president of pro-Castro lobbying group Engage Cuba, James Williams, said this year in response to President Trump’s suggestion of a reversal of former President Barack Obama’s permissive Cuba policy. “That would directly contradict Trump’s efforts to strengthen relations with countries that have far worse human rights records, including Saudi Arabia, China and Egypt.”

“How come we do business with some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes with the worst human rights’ records on the planet, yet we keep insisting that the Cuban embargo should be kept in place solely on moral grounds?” Adrian Brito, a HuffPost columnist, wrote in 2014, in defense of Obama’s policies. “China’s human rights record is horrendous, but nobody seems to be suggesting halting trade with China.”

“Why is a communist nation on the other side of the globe, China, whose prisons are brimming over with dissidents, our most important trading partner and Cuba’s regime is held beneath contempt?” author Bonnie Blodgett wrote last year in Minnesota’s Star Tribune.

The critics are right: there is no moral justification for trade with a communist regime. Where they err is that this double standard gives carte blanche to American businessmen to deal with all rogue states; on the contrary, the realization of this hypocrisy should lead to calls to cease funding governments that beat, torture, and kill its citizens for dissent.

The conversation on trade with China may begin with North Korea, but the moral repercussions of enabling China do not end with Pyongyang.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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