Useless Thoughts Running Through My Head

various musings of a generation x kad

Sudan, China, and the Yellow Peril

Posted by thoughtful1 on May 24, 2007

This past Sunday we had a service on peacemaking. One of the speakers, a member of the church, spoke about genocide in Darfur. She urged us to join the Unitarian Universalist Services Committee and support their work to end the killing in Sudan. She also spoke about divestment and the latest push on Fidelity to stop investing money in companies that do business with Sudan.

The highlighted companies were Chinese: PetroChina and Sinopec. In fact, those were the only two companies I recall hearing about, and I’m pretty they were the only companies mentioned.

She also mentioned that there were rumblings about boycotting the Beijing Olympics in order to pressure the Chinese government to stop buying oil from Sudan. So it appears that China would make a good target for social justice pressure, and its companies good targets for divestment.

But, here is my question: Why only China? Why is China the new Big Bad in lefty social justice circles? And why only about Darfur? Why not about China’s long record of civil and human rights abuses?

After all, India is also industrializing and needs oil for energy. And, as we all know, just about everyone else needs oil…. So something tells me that China isn’t the only country buying oil from Sudan. And something tells me that it isn’t just Chinese companies doing business in Sudan.

I went to the Sudan Divestment Task Force Screener, where you can see if your mutual funds are invested in companies that do business with Sudan. I checked the investments of various Vanguard and Fidelity mutual funds that hold stocks. I checked some of the main funds, such as Vanguard’s Wellington fund, and some more specialized funds for categories such as emerging markets and Pacific Rim, companies that aren’t American, with some located in developing countries.

Guess what?

While I found several funds holding stock in PetroChina and Sinopec, they were not the most common offender held by the mutual funds I looked at. The most common stock held was Schlumberger Ltd. Or at least it was the one that kept popping up when I looked at the different funds. Doesn’t sound very Chinese to me. In fact, it is incorporated in the Netherlands Antilles. (Schlumberger is also traded on the NYSE and is part of the S&P 500… does that make it quasi-American?)

There were also a few other stocks of Scandinavian and Indian companies. But I don’t hear anyone saying boo about the Scandinavians or Indians. Is that because it’s easier to slam evil Communists with a reputation for being diabolical and shifty than it is to slam white, progressive, respectful Scandinavians? (Don’t know why Indians are getting off easy on this one…. Maybe it’s the Bollywood movies? Or perhaps we see them as heroic for throwing off the British Empire with non-violence? That’s probably more likely.)

Mind you, I did not make a scientific study, and I certainly didn’t look at every single fund that held equities. But I did find it curious that I was more likely to see Schlumberger Ltd than PetroChina or Sinopec.

This makes me worry. Don’t get me wrong – I abhor what is happening in Sudan. It is an outrage.  But I have to wonder if this is an example of how lingering racism and colonialism creeps into the way we carry out social justice. Is picking on China rooted, in part, in American fears of the Yellow Peril? Is picking on China a little colonialist? We’re entitled to tell you Asians what to do, but we won’t bother telling our White European cousins what to do? Is picking on China another way in which white liberals carry out social justice with an unconscious racism?

Some may say that with the severity of what is happening Darfur this doesn’t matter. As long we get someone to stop spending money in Sudan then we’ve done good. OK, but by allowing racism and colonialism to narrow our view of who the bad guys are, aren’t we allowing others to continue enabling genocide, albeit indirectly and unintentionally?

[P.S. I’m sure that those who are heavily involved in the divestment strategy know that it isn’t just Chinese companies, and I imagine that others know this as well.  It just strikes me that the companies that have entered into the main UU awareness on this issue are Chinese, and that the overriding sentiment is we have to pressure China.]

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