08 January 2009

Capitalism in China: Should We Trade With Them?

A few years ago - almost a decade ago, actually - I struggled with this same question.  The company I was working for was for the first time courting a potential customer in China, and I wondered: was it moral to do so?

I was assailed by conflicting thoughts.  Was doing business with this communist country essentially sanctioning evil?  Or was it a mistake to still regard China strictly as a communist country, since it had evolved so much in a seemingly positive direction during the 1990’s?  Would commerce bolster the Chinese government, or would it weaken it?  Was my doing business with Chinese companies harmful or beneficial to me in the long run?

Needless to say, the Chinese government itself was not the potential customer - that would have made my decision easy.  On the other hand, I’m not sure how much meaning there is in a “private company” in China; however much the strict communism has diminished, as long as the country is officially communist, I don’t see how there can be actual private property.  Another concern of mine was that our product, though it was a consumer product and not military in nature, had some reasonably advanced communications technology.  I worried that it could conceivably fall into a “dual-use” category (i.e. it could be reverse engineered or adapted for military use). 

I did a little bit of research at the time, reading a couple of books and poring over some reports from the Commerce Department and Congress.  (Coincidentally, Congress had just come out with an extensive report on the topic of Chinese trade and espionage, compiled by Christopher Cox, if I recall correctly.)  In the end, the business opportunity fizzled out and so it became a moot point for that particular time.  But after all the thinking I had done about it, I had not arrived at a conclusion with certainty.  I leaned toward trade with China being a good thing - and I am even more of that mind today - but it’s a difficult issue.

Anyway, this all came back to me tonight when I stumbled across this video from the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights.

1 comment:

Kendall J said...

You're not the only one who's thinking about this topic. I posed the question on several forums and ultimately blogged about it a couple of years ago.

I was whipped on at least one forum for suggesting that anyone might be justified in doing business with China, but have found that my opinion matched Brook's when I finally heard him talk at OCON 08.

I've got a blog post upcoming on one economics professor study of property rights in China.

Nice job!