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Ldefending human rights on the international scene can come at an economic cost. A tad coarse and brutal, some would say cynical, this reality is too rarely discussed. Who would dare to oppose turnover and denunciation of torture? Maintaining employment and defending a martyred minority?

The struggle for the principles on which liberal democracies are founded, and which they consider universal, should not be bothered with these questions. And yet, unpleasant as they may be, these questions lie at the heart of the conflict between China and the United States. They even give all its originality to the battle between Beijing and Washington for world preponderance.

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Joe Biden’s America speaks human rights again. She intends to promote democracy, she wants to denounce attacks on political freedoms. It rehabilitates the “values” component of American diplomacy, and that is a good thing. This score, Donald Trump had buried – both out of personal affection for dictators and because he did not see in the name of what the United States would give lessons to anyone.

We can welcome the return of this “diplomacy of values”, but on condition of admitting that it is more difficult than ever to put into practice, especially in the relationship with China. In this case, the comparison with the period of the Cold War, that which opposed the Western camp to the Soviet Union, teaches us nothing. It was a conflict where the two opposing parties did not maintain economic relations – a situation that makes adversity easier.

Aggressive expansionism

Between Soviet Russia and the United States, trade transactions amounted to some $ 2 billion per year. Today, between China and the United States, it is 2 billion dollars a day. Between the two largest economies in the world, the weight of trade, even in a period of tariff war, is an element that, in their strategic adversity, neither Beijing nor Washington can ignore.

Faced with Beijing’s aggressive expansionism in Asia, the United States is leaning on its traditional allies. But these, whether it is Japan, South Korea or Australia, at the same time have China as their main economic partner. Situation which moderates activist enthusiasms.

Beijing is responding today to the sanctions taken by Washington and certain Europeans in the name of defending the Uighurs. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is organizing a boycott of the large Swedish ready-to-wear firm H&M (400 stores in China). Reason: H&M is reportedly abandoning cotton from Xinjiang – suspecting it may be associated with forced labor. Nothing new here. Like the United States, China has never hesitated to use the economic weapon for political ends.

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