Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

China, America, and a Peace Economy

My traveling companion said "There is our trade deficit." The first thing I saw was a pile of crates. The huge kind that go on barges and ship gigantic amounts of goods from country to country and up and down rivers. There were not just a few, but stacks of 5-10 in groups of 5ish stacks and rows and rows as far as you could see in one or two directions. But you could only see so far because of the white-gray haze that hung over everything. The amount of goods and the overwhelming pressure of industrialization hangs over Shenzhen, one of the largest and most important international ports in the country of China. If you buy something that is marked "Made in China," odds are that at one point it may have passed through this city and the hands of thousands of workers who come here to find jobs.

We did not stop on our way through Shenzhen, we hust looked out the windows, but I could not keep my eyes off of everything I saw - the poor condition of houses, made of aluminum sheets, dirty wood, houses obviously made from the clay surrounding it. It's not that the houses are made from clay and wood, but that the wood is rotting and everything is covered in soot and dust from the pollution. There is no way that these people have good water. The heat in the air is stuffy and difficult to breathe. The statistics about heart disease in China are staggering. Population congestion means that communicable disease is a frightening threat.

I have never seen anything like it in my life. You cannot pass through this place and reconsider your lifestyle, your ability to help others in poverty and your buying choices. It's in front of your face and not across an ocean. These are people, not just imaginary production forces.

China depends on American buyers - there is no escaping the countries' relationship, which cannot be severed but at a disastrous cost to both. The system which is set up is skewed and bound for disaster. Not that one sells and one buys, but that the system abuses the global environment and forces awful working conditions on masses of people and a wasteful "get-more" mentality on others. We'd like to say that we should help people get out of these conditions, but the truth is that the United States has a conflict of interest here. It is in our financial interest to keep bad conditions to keep our prices low, so that people can afford needed goods. But which is more important - human lives and human rights in China or the cost of living and human rights in the United States? There is no good choice.

We need to look at these problems in a completely new way and tear down the system in order to build a better one up, one that supports and protects people from both countries. We need to be able to exchange goods without abuses. We need to re-evaluate what are our "needs" and what we can live without or find a new way to accomplish the need. We need to quit commiting violence against the Chinese and ourselves.

We need a peace economy. It is imperative; all of us are at stake.


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