AN IRISHMAN'S DIARY
THE crackers came from there. The gloves came from there. The little lock came from there. The paper hats came from there. The new suitcases came from there. The slippers came from there. The little bell came from there. The tiny whistle came from there. The cuddly toy came from there. The set of knives and forks came from there. The plates and cups and saucers came from there. The plastic Christmas trees came from there. The paper frills came from there. The tiny, almost totally valueless plastic figurines came from there. The produce of there filled our Christmas and our Christmas stockings the workforce of there made virtually everything under the tree and on the Christmas table. There has had the most astonishingly successful commercial Christmas in its history. There is one of the most repressive, brutal regimes in the world. There remains virtually unnamed when nice people and gather and talk about human rights abuse.
There is China. What is it about China which suspends it from the normal rules of bien pensant judgment? When the French conducted their nuclear tests, underground, in territory which repeatedly expresses its pleasure in being incorporated within metropolitan France, there was world outcry. French produce, and most importantly, French wines, were boycotted throughout the world. Scandinavian governments cancelled contracts with French vineyards worth millions. French exports dipped alarmingly everywhere. Greenpeace, that most selective of environmental groups, helped organise boycotts of France and demonstrations outside French embassies.
My own opinion - that the French were probably right to make their nuclear weapons as sound as possible by means of safe nuclear tests (for otherwise they would not do their job, which is not to cause maximum damage, but to deter), is a minority opinion. (And in Ireland the minority probably is just me.) History will probably show that we shall have reason to be grateful for the existence of a European deterrent which will scare any demented aggressor more than it can scare Europe.
But that opinion is irrelevant. What is not is that the French economy was savaged by the worldwide response to its nuclear tests. The Chinese were letting off nuclear bombs at precisely the same time - and what happened to them? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Chinese exports boomed at that time; and Greenpeace stayed virtually mum - because in the Greenpeace canon, a regime which calls itself socialist is more okayish than one which calls itself capitalist, even though France is governed by the rule of law, and China is governed by the rule of the firing squad.
So far as I have been able to discover, Greenpeace involved itself in one four hour protest against Chinese nuclear tests last year, which continued long after the French tests were abandoned. No doubt Greenpeace feels a certain animus - as indeed I would - towards the French following the murder of a Greenpeace activist by French agents. But grownups do not let personal matters influence the formation of policy; and the Greenpeace policy towards French nuclear tests was far more co ordinated far more vigorous, and far more international than its protests against the Chinese - if you can call a vessel bobbing off Chinese waters for four hours a protest.
That was in June - I have been unable to find any record of a serious Greenpeace protest about the last Chinese nuclear test in July. Nor was it Greenpeace alone which discriminated oddly in favour of the Chinese - so too did the countries of Asia which protested most strongly against the French tests, yet who have most to fear from Chinese aggression, such as Australia and New Zealand. When the first Chinese aircraft carrier sails into Auckland Bay or beneath Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the natives are waiting nervously to greet their first pro consul from Peking, they might wonder why their leaders of the 1990s did not excoriate the Chinese for their nuclear tests at the time.
Peking. I still say Peking - why not? Why should we use the name the Chinese government instructs us to use? As it happens, Beijing is, very roughly, merely the Mandarin pronunciation of the capital - though in fact our orthography comes nowhere close to capturing the sounds involved. "Peking" is much closer to the Cantonese word for the capital, which is the source for our old word. But the Chinese told us they wanted us to call their capital Beijing, as they told us we were not to use the term Nationalist China; and obligingly; we did so.
Why? We call up Copenhagen and Munchen Munich and Torino Turin and Napoli Naples and Moscva Moscow and Koln Cologne; what wretched western instinct causes us to kow-tow before Chinese demands? The word kow-tow supplies one reason. It comes from the Chinese, k'out t'ou, meaning to knock the head (in self-abasement). The Chinese expect us to k'ou-t'ou (because they think we are barbarians) and we do (because we agree with them).
Meanwhile the Chinese economy prospers on child labour, a seven 12 hour day working week, a vast prison system which serves as a free labourpool for well connected factory owning communist party members, a complete absence of trade union organisation and a ruthless police force which imposes the state's will on the economy. Europe creates its social charter, promising a future of indefinitely declining working hours and indefinitely increasing social benefits, while the Chinese run up a balance of trade surplus with us almost without precedent.
Chinese factories now fill our department stores with goods from their slave labour factories, and we say nothing grateful, perhaps, that we can get goods so cheap, though they come from economic zones where there are no environmental laws, and no laws either on child labour. We take their goods, call their capital Beijing and keep them in countenance; and amid the silence from the left and the environmentalists, there is one sound - the clunk of a k'ou-t'ou.