Dr. Jianli Yang

Talk at Panel “Responding to the Chinese Model: The Case for a Values-Based Economic ‘NATO’” hosted by The Henry Jackson Society

July 24, 2023, London, the UK

Thank you, Dr. Mendoza, for your kind introduction. It is a great honor for me to, alongside my dear friend Ben Rogers, speak at the Henry Jackson Society. I cannot find a better place than the Henry Jackson Society to talk about the idea of a values-based economic “NATO” which is in the same spirit as the “Jackson-Vanik Amendment” that was introduced in 1974 by U.S. Congressmen Henry Jackson, the namesake of the Society, and Charles Vanik. The amendment is the first legislation in history that links trade to human rights.

I have been advocating and seeking international support for human rights and democracy in China since before the Tiananmen massacre. Decades of experience do not lead me to naively believe that democracies will always be able to uphold their founding principles. For political leaders in the democratic world, there is often a wide gap between their professed values and the concrete practice of their foreign policy. I have also found that while the reasons why democracies fail to stand up for their principles on human rights issues are complex, there is one reason that plays the most direct, practical, and pervasive role, and that reason is simple: “money talks.”

Over the past three decades, China has achieved fast and steady economic growth under a one-party dictatorship, becoming the world’s second largest economy and rapidly closing the gap with the United States in the fields of science, technology, and national defense. China has greatly expanded its influence on the international stage, offering the world an appealing alternative to the liberal democratic path to modernity. The post-World War II rules-based international order is being challenged as never before.

In the meantime, the economic interdependence between the democratic world and China has reached to such an unprecedented level that it is no longer possible to separate one from the other.

China is actively using its new-found economic power to coerce, lure, and infiltrate democracies and international organizations, making it difficult for the democratic world to confront China on human rights issues and other issues related to fundamental value conflicts with China, often forcing democracies to back down from their value positions.

According to incomplete statistics, since 2010, countries directly affected by China’s economic retaliation over value-based conflicts include Norway, the United Kingdom, France, Mongolia, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and others.

It would be naive to think that only smaller economies are impacted.

In May 2012, British Prime Minister David Cameron met with the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. In responding, China halted ministerial meetings with British counterparts and declared that relations would not be restored until Britain “corrects the error” and “stops supporting anti-Chinese forces.” The snub prompted intense debate at the highest levels of the British government over the UK’s ties with China. At a private meeting attended by Cameron, then-Chancellor George Osborne notably told a group of ministers that Britain’s relationship with China was of such economic and geopolitical importance that British sensitivities about human rights could not be allowed to complicate matters. Osborne won the argument and led a five-day trade mission to China in October 2013, paving the way for Beijing to invest in Britain’s new generation of nuclear power plants and setting the stage for Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Beijing that December. Cameron’s visit, on which he was accompanied by 100 businesspeople, focused on fostering trade relations with China and Cameron “correct[ed] the error” as Beijing urged.

Indeed, we must recognize that all countries are affected, including the United States and Germany, Europe’s largest economy. There are numerous examples of the U.S. and Germany compromising their core principles out of concern for economic losses in their relations with China, not to mention individuals and companies with interests at stake.

We should ask this hard question: How much money is an individual, a company, or a country willing or able to lose by standing up to China’s brutal totalitarian regime? We must admit that there is a limit. We must be idealistic but also realistic. But what is the solution?

From Left to Right: Benedict Rogers, Alan Mendoz, and Jianli Yang

From Left to Right: Benedict Rogers, Alan Mendoz, and Jianli Yang

In response to China’s economic retaliation because of values-related conflicts, mutual economic assistance between Japan, Taiwan, Australia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and other countries has emerged in recent years. In particular, in April of last year, the European Union approved 130 million euros in financial aid to Lithuanian companies after China initiated discriminatory trade restrictions against Lithuania for its showing support for Taiwan.

These models deserve to be institutionalized. Time has come to consider establishing a values-based economic “NATO” for the world’s democracies. The treaty organization I’m proposing should aim to engage in both collective defense and collective offensive on values-related issues. The NATO principle of mutual military defense would be applied the economic sphere–when China retaliates economically against a member-state for standing up for democratic principles, all other treaty members must proactively come to her defense to help ease the resulting economic pain by increasing trade, financial aids or other means.

Collective offense would comprise the following three elements:

First, each signatory country should pass a Human Rights Act linking human rights to all fields of diplomatic ties with dictatorships—regular assessments and executive reports to Parliament or Congress, etc.

Second, signatory states should collectively confront human rights violating countries for human rights issues on various world platforms.

Third, signatories should formulate united measures of punishment for individual cases of human rights violations.

I first put forth this idea in October, 2019 in my speech at Forum 2000, Prague. I have since published many articles revolving around this idea, including the one I was privileged to coauthor with my dear friend Ben.

The proposed values-based economic “NATO” would not be a military organization like NATO, nor would it be a security organization like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) or AUKUS. It would not be an international organization like the World Trade Organization (WTO), which promotes global trade and arbitrates trade disputes. The WTO was unsuccessfully used as leverage to promote human rights in China during the debate over whether and how to admit China 22 years ago. The values-based economic “NATO”—which would in a sense make up for what was missing back then—would be a values-based economic organization that not only can help promote China’s human rights progress, but also can coordinate its powerful economic forces to respond collectively and effectively when member-states come into economic conflict with China over promoting China’s human rights progress, defending their democratic values, or defending a rules-based liberal international order.

There have been many talks about China’s influence. It is time to realize that China has no moral authority or any real hard power except money. While money is probably only form of China’s hard power, amorality has become China’s soft power—a pragmatist soft power. Its formula can be described as disregard for human rights, contempt for democratic values, plus veneration of money.

China’s combined power of money and amorality is appealing to many parts of the world including democratic countries.

To compete with and overcome China’s influence, the world’s democracies need a values-based economic “NATO” . It would place human rights and democratic values at the heart of its soft power promotion in developing countries and support their economic development. Its formula can be loosely described as advancing human rights, promoting democratic values, plus money—our own economic strength, our own economic power.

If last year’s White Paper movement–the first nationwide protest since the Tiananmen democracy movement–proved anything, it is that, despite the CCP’s soft and hard power, the Chinese people continue to demand freedom and democracy, and therefore change is possible in China. International democratic forces can support that change by defeating the CCP’s hard power-money-and pragmatist soft power in the international arena. For any gains the CCP makes on the global stage will only increase the scale and scope of its authoritarianism, both domestically and abroad. Again, it’s time for a values-based economic “NATO”.