Jamyang Norbu’s new book, Buying the Dragon’s Teeth, is a well-argued and well-documented indictment of China’s violation of human rights and labor standards and a call for a boycott of Chinese goods. Buying the Dragon’s Teeth demonstrates that the Chinese Communist Party abuses the human rights of the Chinese people and exploits their labor, is guilty of cultural genocide in Tibet, is responsible for the spread of nuclear and missile technology worldwide and engages in unfair business practices internally and internationally. Jamyang Norbu does an admirable and credible job in documenting China’s deplorable human rights and business practices, much of which is not disputed even by those who do business with China. Unlike those who advocate appeasement of China for the greater goal of commerce and its “inevitable” democratizing effects or who imagine that China will negotiate about the Tibet issue, the author argues against appeasement. Jamyang Norbu argues that China’s economic development is leading toward fascism rather than democracy and that China shows no inclination to make any concessions about Tibet. He offers no solution, other than an abandonment of appeasement, but rather a tactic, a boycott of Chinese goods.
Buying the Dragon’s Teeth maintains that there are three direct reasons not to buy Chinese-made products. These are that such products are often made in prisons or labor camps, that they may be made by enterprises owned by the Chinese military (presumably this is less of an issue since the PLA has supposedly divested itself of such enterprises), and that they are definitely made by a disenfranchised labor force. The book gives other reasons as well, including China’s repression of religion, forced abortions and sterilization, indiscriminate use of the death penalty, commercial harvesting of organs of executed prisoners, torture in prisons, psychiatric persecution of political prisoners, military occupation and cultural genocide in Tibet, repression in East Turkestan, press and Internet censorship, nuclear weapons proliferation, and unfair and corrupt business practices. The book also answers the usual questions and objections regarding the feasibility and effectiveness of a boycott.
Jamyang Norbu argues that boycotts in history have in fact often been extraordinarily effective. Even in regard to China he says that some Tibetan-organized boycotts were effective, at least in arousing attention, until curtailed by Dharamsaala’s appeasement policy. Because the Tibetan Government in exile unrealistically imagines that China is in a mood to negotiate about the Tibet issue, it has discouraged any actions that China might consider contrary to a conducive atmosphere for negotiations. This self-defeating policy has furthered Chinese propaganda about the lack of any real issue in regard to Tibet while producing absolutely no Chinese concessions. This policy, like that in favor of accepting Tibetan autonomy under China, has discouraged, divided and confused both Tibetans and their international supporters. Any actions considered anti-Chinese, such as demonstrations against Chinese diplomats’ international travels, have been discouraged. Dharamsala is therefore unlikely to endorse the author’s boycott. However, besides demonstrating the utter futility of Dharamsala’s policy, the author promotes the boycott tactic precisely because of its independence from all governments’ policies, that of Dharamsala included.
Government support for a boycott, whether that of Dharamsala or any Western government, is not required. Boycotts are more effective when they are popularly rather than government inspired. Nevertheless, there remains the question of the feasibility of a popular boycott of Chinese goods, especially in the United States, which is where the author lives and on which he focuses. Chinese goods dominate much of the American market, especially such stores as Wal-Mart, and are almost impossible to avoid. How then can any individual avoid Chinese products and, even if successful in doing so, have any impact? The answer is that in the present situation one can hardly avoid Chinese products and even if successful in doing so can have little effect except self-satisfaction. However, under different circumstances, the possibilities are quite different.
During the 2001 EP-3 incident, in which an American reconnaissance plane and a Chinese fighter collided and the US crew was held in China for several days, US-China tensions increased to a high level. Wal-Mart stores across the US received calls from hundreds of customers complaining that Wal-Mart seemed to sell only Chinese products. Suspecting that the calls reflected a campaign by some organization, Wal-Mart tried to ascertain its identity, but found that there was no organization involved. The calls in fact reflected the popular concern of many consumers about American reliance upon Chinese imports. This incident demonstrates the unease among Americans about their dependence on Chinese-made products as well as the potential for a popular boycott of those products should US-China relations deteriorate. It also demonstrates the vulnerability of Wal-Mart on this issue.
Despite the US policy of constructive engagement with China, potential conflicts are possible, some would say likely or even inevitable, the most obvious being over Taiwan. China has declared its intention to “recover” Taiwan and regards this as a sacred mission necessary for China to achieve its national potential and recover its national dignity. China acknowledges absolutely no right and no reason for any international interference in or support for Taiwan. The possibility for conflict over Taiwan seems more likely than not and US involvement almost inevitable. Even were the US not to become involved, if China were to recover Taiwan by force it could trigger a crisis in US-China relations. A deterioration of US relations with China is also possible, even likely, simply due to the rivalry created by China’s rise to great power status. There are other scenarios that could produce a similar result. Should such conflict or deterioration of relations with China occur, then a popular rejection of American dependence upon Chinese goods is predictable. Such a rejection is possible even in the absence of any such conflict, due to events within China, trade conflicts or Americans’ rejection of their dependency upon Chinese-made goods.
Should such a deterioration in relations with China occur, the likelihood of which even the proponents of an appeasement policy have to acknowledge, then Jamyang Norbu’s tireless efforts in favor of a boycott against Chinese goods will be seen as prescient. In that case, others, particularly Tibet support organizations connected to Dharamsala, will undoubtedly portray themselves as the leaders of any such boycott. However, their previous policy of appeasement will forever condemn them as the Neville Chamberlains of Sino-US and Sino-Tibetan policy, while Jamyang Norbu will be regarded as the Winston Churchill. Jamyang Norbu’s Buying the Dragon’s Teeth is characterized by his usual superb writing style and should be read for its analysis of China’s human rights abuse alone.
Buying the Dragon’s Teeth
By Jamyang Norbu
High Asia Press, New York
161 pp., US$ 12.00