Were These Same People Applauding the Tiananmen Square Massacre?

05/25/2011 12:10 pm ET
  • David Sirota Newspaper columnist, radio host (AM760), bestselling author

It may surprise us here at home to read international polls showing most of the world thinks China's influence on the world is far more positive than America's influence on the world. But when you read a New York Times story like this, it becomes clear that such opinions are not just fabricated out of thin air - they come, at least in part, from our government and our business leaders telling the world that our major ideology is not respect for democracy or the protection of human rights, but simply "Greed is Good."

Here's the first excerpt:

"China's legislature passed a sweeping new labor law on Friday that strengthens protections for workers across the booming economy, a response to increasing signs of restiveness among tens of millions of migrant laborers. The law, enacted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress over the objections of foreign investors, requires employers to provide written contracts to their workers, restricts the use of temporary laborers and helps give more employees long-term job security...Passage of the measure came shortly after officials and the state news media unearthed the widespread use of slave labor in as many as 8,000 brick kilns and small coal mines in Shanxi and Henan Provinces. It was one of the most glaring labor scandals since China began adopting market-style economic policies a quarter century ago. The police have freed nearly 600 workers, many of them teenagers, held against their will in factories owned or operated by well-connected businesspeople and local officials." (emphasis added)

Did our government and business leaders react with support, applauding China's efforts to stop human rights abuses? Uh, no:

"Many multinational corporations had lobbied against certain provisions in an earlier draft of the new labor law...International labor experts said several of the most delicate clauses had been watered down...Some foreign businesses warned that they would have little choice but to move their operations out of China if the provisions were enacted...Lawyers representing some big global companies complained that the new law still imposed a heavy burden. 'It will be more difficult to run a company here,' said Andreas W. Lauffs, head of Baker & McKenzie's employment law group, which represents many of America's biggest corporations in China." (emphasis added)

Again, a lot of America's image problem around the globe has to do with the Iraq War - but it also has to do with behavior like this. When our corporate ambassadors aggressively pressure dictatorial foreign governments to back off plans to enact better human rights laws, the image of America as imperial power is reinforced. Here we have American corporate leaders quite literally threatening to leave China if China even minimally works to stop slavery. It makes you wonder if these same American business leaders were cheering on the Tiananmen Square massacre. But one thing's for sure - we shouldn't wonder whether America's tattered global image is only about Iraq. "Greed is good" may make for great movie quotes, but as a foreign policy motto and an international economic export, it doesn't exactly help make us friends or build us a positive image among the world's masses.