We welcome last week’s news that China has agreed to buy between $40 billion and $50 billion in U.S. agriculture products as part of a “cease fire” in the ongoing trade war between the two countries.
President Trump has agreed to suspend planned hikes in tariffs on Chinese goods as talks continue. Unfortunately, the cease fire does nothing to eliminate punishing tariffs on U.S. goods that are already in place.
But talks continue.
China is an important trading partner for farmers and ranchers in the Pacific Northwest. Any improvement in trade relations between the United States and China is good news for farmers.
Yet our enthusiasm for this recent development is tempered by other actions of the Chinese government that made the news last week.
Exercising his First Amendment rights, Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team, tweeted his support for demonstrators in Hong Kong protesting a proposed ordinance that they fear would put residents and visitors to the region under the jurisdiction of the mainland Chinese communist government.
American basketball is very popular in China, and China is very important to the National Basketball Association.
Beijing responded by threatening to call off a series of planned NBA exhibition games in China. Morey pulled his tweet and apologized to the Chinese government. The Rockets disavowed Morey and the NBA groveled.
And the NBA isn’t alone. With billions of dollars at stake, just about everyone that does business in China works hard not to run afoul of the leadership.
Google and Facebook facilitate censorship. Hollywood tempers its scripts to avoid touchy subjects such as Tibet, the Dalai Lama, the Tiananmen Square massacre and the sovereignty of Taiwan. Apple has given a state-run company control of its iCloud operation in China, along with the encryption key that has given the government access to emails, text messages, photos and other data of Chinese customers.
Nike pulled the products of one of its affiliated brands from Chinese shelves after its principal designer tweeted support for Hong Kong protestors. In contrast, Disney remained silent when the actress playing the title role in its live-action movie “Mulan” tweeted her support for the police beating Hong Kong demonstrators.
The People’s Republic of China is a totalitarian, communist regime that doesn’t tolerate departures from the party line. It uses forced labor, it persecutes religious minorities, it imprisons dissenters in “re-education” camps, it is said to harvest the organs of detainees.
Unfortunately, it’s also an economic powerhouse that isn’t afraid to throw its weight around.
None of this seems to have anything to do with agricultural exports to China. To our knowledge, the Chinese have not put the arm on American farmers and ranchers to moderate their views.
But what happens if a social media-savvy soybean farmer acknowledges in a tweet that Chinese President Xi Jinping resembles Winnie the Pooh? (He does, and it’s a sore spot.) U.S. agriculture might have to make the choice between American values and $24 billion in Chinese sales.
It’s a hard choice to contemplate.