China’s New Revolutionaries: U.S. Consumers – Nathan Gardels

“Beijing must yield to market forces demanding the and an end to corruption.” From The Los Angeles Times:

Who would have thought that tainted pet food and toys would threaten to unravel the authoritarian export model of Chinese growth that the brutal Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 was partly meant to secure?

China’s then “paramount leader” Deng Xiaoping, who had been purged during the Cultural Revolution, could well imagine how political upheaval would derail China’s stable path to prosperity. But it surely never entered his mind, nor that of his descendant comrades, that the fickle American consumer would one day become, as the students in the square wanted to be, the agent of revolutionary change in China.

In the name of sovereignty, China’s leaders for a long time have gotten away with suppressing their own citizens while ignoring the get-gloriously-rich-quick corruption that has thrived in the absence of the rule of law. But, thanks to globalization, China’s export reliance on the U.S. market has imported the political demands of the U.S. consumer into the equation. Americans won’t hesitate to cut the import lifeline and shift away from Chinese products that might poison their children or kill their pets.

Unlike organized labor or human rights groups, consumers don’t have to mobilize to effect change; they only have to stop spending. And their bargaining agents — Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us — have immensely more clout than the AFL-CIO and Amnesty International in fostering change in China. [Full Text]

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