A silent controversy is taking place in my community in Canada as the leaders of some of the Provinces in Canada plan to set off on a trade mission to China. The area surrounding Toronto is one of the largest immigrant communities of those from Hong Kong outside of China, but provincial political leaders have brushed off any serious courtesy to protestors in Hong Kong and haven’t seriously acknowledge the violence being mounted against them by the Chinese government. Hong Kong and Canada shared a common political system, history and set of values coming from the British Commonwealth system and democratic tradition. Still, no one in the provincial governments seem to realize that going on a trade mission in the middle of a crackdown on democratic protestors is not only in very bad taste, but is an offense to democracy.
Some may argue that China and its economic power takes precedence over foreign interests in local Chinese political issues. The standard defense is that sovereignty trumps a foreign country’s claims over internal Chinese political conflicts. The open trade policy the United States has with China is an example of economic weight taking precedence over rights — the U.S. and EU openly promote trade with China, while an embargo continues to plague U.S.-Cuban trade relations and penalizes third party countries and non-U.S. companies from trading with Cuba. Hong Kong is different. It has always been a part of an international community of democratic states who have carried a great deal of weight in the international financial system. Denying the rights of citizens in Hong Kong is not simply the West failing to install democracy in a country that never had it before; it’s tantamount to abandoning a healthy democracy to the tyranny of a one-party state.
Investments by the international community may be becoming more allergic to the rights of citizens than we may realize. Although the President of Brazil, Dilma Rouseff, survived the first round of elections in Brazil, many continue to see her as someone who’s done nothing to stop corruption and economic stagnation, exemplified by her committing to FIFA 2014 and the next summer Olympics. The protests before and during FIFA 2014 created a strong movement against Dilma’s government, and many protestors losing their lives at the hands of Brazilian security forces. The view that corrupt leaders and foreign investors, not Brazilian citizens, benefited from the country’s economic growth pushed voters toward other candidates during the election. While Dilma did make it into the second round and will likely win by a small margin in the end, Brazilians will continue to protest her government and the IOC as they approach the next Olympic Games. If Dilma Rouseff gets another term in office, it will be one shrouded in citizen protests.
When U.S. economic allies choose to ignore democratic movements in China or push frivolous spending against the needs of Brazil’s democracy, it hurts the United States. The U.S. loses because it takes long standing economic and political allies and reduces their struggle to an inconvenience for a few Provincial trade ministers and Premiers from Canada. When the U.S. does not criticize its economic allies and ignores future strong democratic partners, it creates permanent rifts between Brazilians and the West. When the IOC is allowed to abuse Brazil’s democracy for the sake of their games, it creates an irresponsible precedent placing the games over citizen’s rights. Trade and investment is a crucial part of the international system, but it must be done with consideration for the rights of locals in China, Brazil and all other countries that are openly demanding their democratic rights.