The newly-crowned World’s Richest Man, Elon Musk, is a favorite target of the purveyors of internet outrage. Those who don’t despise him for hoarding wealth without ending world hunger or homelessness can find hundreds of things to take offense at in his social media accounts alone. His support for blockchain currencies, his apparently artless attempts at market manipulation, and his single-minded drive to solve humanity’s “One Basket Problem” each would attract the ire of the militant Twittarchists*, and yet he keeps coming up with more in what would, to a cynic, almost seem a deliberate effort to taunt them.
(My main criticism is that he isn’t Batman. But I digress.)
Most recently, the opening of a Tesla showroom in Urumqi, capital of the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang, has drawn vocal protests, calls for a boycott and strike, and the now-familiar death threats against Musk. One of the more cogent statements springs from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which referred to the new showroom as “economic support for genocide”. This is based on claims (and not far-fetched ones) that the Chinese government is running concentration camps in the region, employing forced labor, and attempting to exterminate the Muslim minority Uyghurs who live there.
Again, the more cynical among us might look at the patent illogic of such a protest and presume that CAIR is simply trolling for headlines. After all, the sales of high-priced luxury goods in a region can hardly be construed as economic support; one might more readily understand a boycott of manufacturers that have factories in the region (such as Volkswagen) or that source materials from there (like Intel, who recently backtracked their own attempted boycott and apologized). It does make some sense; there’s been virtually no traction for CAIR’s announced boycott of Hilton for something rather more substantial. One might even say any press is good press for them at this point — and, indeed, this particular protest is gaining traction online, not least because it’s been a slow news week.
But this sort of objection misses the whole point of capitalist expansion into other cultures, which has as its primary goal the conversion of foreign citizens into loyal consumers. In principle, certain brands — Coke and Pepsi, Marlboro and Camel, Disney and Hollywood, McDonald’s and (now) Tesla — are seen as intrinsically American, and brand loyalty to them is a step toward acceptance of American culture and eventually American values. Then, when an American company well-established in that country objects to certain practices, they have a degree of leverage they can trade on to promote social change.
Some may scoff, and not only at the concept of “American values”, which have taken a bit of a hit on the international stage of late. And yet, there are people still living who can remember Khrushchev drinking a cup of Pepsi at the American Exposition in Moscow, and who understand that the Cola Wars sped the end of the Cold War (at one point even literally helping disarm the Soviet Union). The concept is hardly devoid of merit, and it’s the major justification for our continuing to maintain China’s “Most Favored Nation” trade status.
To put it at its most fundamental: As long as China continues to rely on imports of American agricultural products and the funds generated from exports to the United States, it will always be contrary to their interest to engage in war with us.
Having observed that, nevertheless, there are compelling reasons for certain among us to avoid Chinese-manufactured technology when practicable, particularly espionage. Concealed hard-coded spyware has been discovered by major American tech companies on hardware sourced from major Chinese manufacturers, for example. Then too, there’s a great deal of legitimate concern over the present trade imbalance, which is non-sustainable over time. China is a rival, though not truly an adversary, of the United States, and should be treated as such.
However, it is an undeniable truth that Tesla would face major backlash should it be revealed that parts were being manufactured in forced-labor camps. They would be compelled to react by market forces, and the Chinese government certainly understands those forces. We can thus rely on their own self-interest to at least curb human rights abuses in some areas — as long as social outrage in the United States continues to be a factor.
Given that: Perhaps CAIR’s announcement isn’t so cynical after all.
If what you just read pisses you off, that’s not because it’s wrong. People are wrong every day and it doesn’t get to you. If you’re upset by this article, it’s because deep down you’re afraid it’s true.
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(*Editor’s Note: We at The Not Fake News are not Twittarchists, though we do share some philosophical perspectives with the movement, and we respect some of their positions. For instance, we agree with the general principle, “that government governs best which governs least”; we favor third-party politics and uncapping the House — and so on. Nevertheless, we recommend working within the system for social change and we oppose violent revolution.)