The New York Times reports on Germany’s attempt to balance its business interests with a concern for human rights in Central Asia:
Mrs. Merkel has no illusions about how [Kazakhstan] is governed. But German industry fears its near total dependence on China for the rare earth metals needed in high-tech manufacturing for products like solar panels and electrical car engines. China controls 97 percent of rare earth production and supplies 90 percent of Europe’s needs. Its decision in 2010 to reduce such exports prompted German industry to search for alternative sources, quickly…
Yet as a whole, human rights experts say the European Union is allowing its values to be increasingly undermined by the rise of China. With the euro crisis, Europe is weakening and becoming dependent on Chinese investments, say analysts. That makes European officials wary about being too outspoken.
“Business should be, as much as civil society, interested in governance on the rule of law, transparency and accountability,” said Ms. Aidakulova and Mr. Artemyev of the Soros Foundation. “This sets the environment in which business interests will be effectively protected.”
As a second step, Western governments should insist on more stringent social and environmental conditions for mining rare earths and other raw materials when they conclude the partnership accords with countries like Kazakhstan.
This is an interesting tension, one that has never quite been resolved in the conduct of international affairs. I tried to raise this fundamental tension in my column this week for PBS and came away without any solid answer.
It’s rare for a leader to win the support of her citizenry by subordinating their interests to the human rights of people living abroad. Consider, in an American context, Jimmy Carter’s decision to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. President Carter did this to protest the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan the previous year, part of his broad push to emphasize the promotion of human rights as an American interest. It was also one of the most bitterly controversial decisions he made, and ultimately contributed to his inability to secure a second term in the White House.
U.S. policy makers are facing a choice in Central Asia that is very similar to Chancellor Merkel’s. The U.S. decision to reengage with the government of Uzbekistan has been controversial, and has sparked condemnations from the same human rights groups that protest Merkel’s decision. Such condemnations, however, raise a very basic question: What can be done? One hears, routinely, from rights activists that the U.S. always has a choice, and that is has leverage, but one hears very rarely what those choices are or what that leverage is.
And around we go.