December 23, 2007
Written by C.N.
As we reflect on the major news events of 2006, one of the most prominent headlines were the recalls of a multitude of Chinese-made consumer products and stories that questioned the overall safety and quality of goods made in China. With these events in mind, should American consumer boycott all products made in China to force Chinese companies to improve and clean up their act?
Undoubtedly, many Americans from all kinds of racial/ethnic, cultural, and political backgrounds are already doing that. However, a recent editorial in the Christian Science Monitor describes one family’s reason why they stopped boycotting Chinese-made products:
Our boycott wasn’t about politics or product safety. It was an experiment to measure the connections between my little family and China’s booming export economy. We wanted to know if we could shake free of China in our lives as consumers – and whether we even wanted to.
The boycott upended our lives. Our son pined for Chinese-made light sabers and monster trucks. We placated him with Danish Legos. Broken appliances could not be repaired or replaced. Our son’s sneakers cost nearly $70 when our only alternative was tennis shoes from Italy. . . .
But in 2005 I had learned that . . . self-reliance, at the level of the family and the nation, is a thing of the past. Nobody relinquishes independence without a fight. But that is what we have done, quietly and irreversibly, in turning to China and the rest of the world for so much of what we want and need at the bargain prices we have come to expect.
The boycott taught me something else: that I did not want to turn my back on China. I’m not minimizing its huma rights record or abuse of the environment, but I believe the solutions to those concerns and others lie in turning toward China, rather than away. . . .
I will keep reading recall notices, but I won’t toss China from the house completely. And when I watch my son step onto his new skateboard and take his first tentative glide, I will imagine him sailing toward the rest of the world, rather than away from it.
As I said, many Americans have very valid and passionate reasons for boycotting things made in China and I am not here to denounce or criticize their choices. However, as I’ve written before on promoting democracy and human rights in communist and/or totalitarian regimes around the world, I believe the most effective strategy is not to boycott and isolate those nations, but to engage them, just like the editorial describes.
Engagement does not mean that we ignore their abuses or failures and just pretend that everything is business as usual. Rather, engaging a totalitarian regime means keeping their abuses and failures in the spotlight, pressing them to improve their record, and integrating them into the international community where public pressure will likely lead to gradual, not overnight, improvements.
As an example, I’ve railed against capitalism many times in the past for the evil social consequences it brings, like rising social inequality. However, as many academics have pointed out, capitalism has also helped to facilitate popular democracy movements throughout history as well.
In other words, the world is rarely a cut-and-dry, black-or-white, moral-or-immoral proposition. There are lots of gray areas and lots of nuanced aspects that can produce positive and negative outcomes for certain groups. Whether it relates to capitalism or to China as a whole, we need to accentuate the positives and use them to gradually reduce the negatives.
That is why I support engagement over boycotting China.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Should Americans Boycott Chinese Products?" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/12/should-americans-boycott-chinese-products/> ().
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