60 second intro

  • China routinely infringes on human rights.
  • But it is possible to see the world through their lens for a moment and understand the reasons they’re doing it.
  • The country has been extremely effective in raising its population out of poverty over the last 200 years.
  • Much of our behavior is similarly questionable.
  • We need them – a lot – and if we want to influence their behavior, it might be helpful to take a moment and view the world through their eyes.

China gets criticized for infringing on human rights

I’ve written before on how China’s economic model seems to be working better than those employed by Western economies.

As part of coronavirus preparation measures, for example, China literally welded doors together to keep people in their homes and prevent the spread. They also used their surveillance capabilities on their population to ensure the rules they had set out were observed.

How ever much this sort of thing is against the values of Western societies, it’s not really down to us to judge their behavior. They are a sovereign nation and can decide for themselves how to manage things. I do think it’s helpful, however, to consider China’s point of view in all of this.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Malsow’s Hierarchy of Needs outlines one view of how to prioritise people’s needs.

It’s interesting to consider the way China does things in the context of Maslow’s hierarchy. src

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one

In Star Trek II, Spock lays down some utilitarian values for the benefit of the Enterprise crew.

In Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Kahn, Spock sacrifices himself for the benefit of the ship and its crew. He explains his thinking to the Captain by suggesting that, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” Spock’s is a logical, utilitarian approach – one reason why economists might favour it.

The number of Chinese people elevated out of poverty.

China has been extremely successful in reducing poverty among her people.

China has succeeded in reducing poverty for the Chinese people. src

Over the course of the last 50 years, China has lifted billions of citizens out of extreme, hand-to-mouth poverty. In my view, they have followed some of the same logic that Spock used. Considering Maslow’s approach, China is sacrificing human desires like self actualization to ensure the basics are provided for their citizens. Who are we to stop them or even say that they are wrong?

It’s tough negotiating with China. We need them far more than they need us. That can lead to us being treated without any respect at all.

On Insiders today (19.4.20) it was suggested that China lied to the face of the foreign minister Maurice Payne, saying that the Coronavirus was not something to be worried about. At the same time, they bought at least 82 tons of PPE in Australia and shipped it back to their homeland.

Bringing it together

The idea that we would complain about China’s behavior when our history is dotted with slavery, stealing artifacts, claiming countries and a bunch of other equally questionable moral behaviors seems a bit weird to me.

We also have a utilitarian attitude to some questions – for example, putting a financial value on a human life. We, too, implemented pretty authoritarian rules as part of the COVID-19 prevention we attempted.

Of course, China should be questioned about some of what they do. Their treatment of the Uighur people is just one example. That said, if we need China more than they need us and we seek to influence their point of view, I think understanding what they are trying to achieve will probably be helpful.