Ad Hoc Negotiations (as published in the New York Times)

Discussions on the legality of trade were underpinned by questions of national sovereignty at the Chinese Trade Summit on Friday.

Discussions on the legality of trade were underpinned by questions of national sovereignty at the Chinese Trade Summit on Friday.

By Benjamin Small
Reporting for the New York Times

At the 2017 Chinese Trade Summit, a conflict erupted as representatives learned that Chinese money had been directed towards illegal logging in Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.  “[This crisis] calls into question the integrity of Chinese investment in countries all over the world,” read the representatives’ brief.

Diplomats called for investigations into China’s purportedly corrupt governmental institutions.  However, Chinese Ministers ardently rejected any proposition of external intervention into Chinese affairs.  “The Chinese government would see any investigation as a breach of sovereignty,” said the Gao Hucheng, Chinese Minister of Commerce.  “It is my belief that we will reject any international investigation.”

Historically, China has taken offense at what it views as breaches of its national autonomy.  China’s claims to islands in the South China Sea and Taiwan are examples of its past efforts to assert sovereignty.  In the name of protecting its self-determination, China has come close to blows with foreign powers such as the United States.

Chinese Ministers said that the use of internal mechanisms for mitigating corruption were preferable for them.  “We have already cracked down on [corruption],” said the Wang Yi, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs.  “We already got rid of two vice-presidents.”

Conflict arose again when Al Jazeera reported that five members of the Vietnamese National Assembly were bribed by Chinese officials. This update called into question the Chinese Ministers’ claims that corruption was decreasing. “[Without regulation], I fear that China can exploit other nations in the future,” said Iran’s Foreign Minister.

Representatives raised further questions into China’s economic integrity when a Chinese-operated mine exploded in Zimbabwe.  “These Chinese businessmen get sent in ... [and] they have no value for human rights,” a survivor of the explosion told the Summit.

“We can’t let China violate our human rights and our environments,” said Iran’s Foreign Minister.  

Human Rights Watch 2016 World Report of China concluded: “China remains an authoritarian state, one that systematically curtails a wide range of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion.”  

The Egyptian Foreign Minister suggested that certain frameworks should be implemented in nations to allow workers to report workplace abuses by employers (such as the unsafe conditions in the Chinese mine).  Mr. Gao said that such a framework would create “an Iraq sort of situation” where sovereignty is ostensibly not upheld.  

At one point during the session, the President of the World Uyghur Congress

introduced a working paper, which encouraged nations to promote international investments and to increase trade transparency.  The paper asked countries to act cooperativity with investors on a “mutually beneficial basis.”

Debate continued as diplomats questioned the exact mechanisms by which the working paper would achieve the goals of transparency and equitable trade.  The Uyghur President responded by saying that the working paper sought to promote values that nations would abide by when embarking on international economic ventures.  The aim of the working paper was to combat issues such as the illegal logging in Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand and unsafe working conditions in Zimbabwe.

At one point Press Corps reporters were kicked unceremoniously from the Summit for reporting ostensibly inflammatory information about Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and President of the People's Republic of China, including that he seemed unfazed by the bribery of Vietnamese officials. The reporters were eventually allowed to return to the Summit.