The Lowdown Hub

Thatcher would never have backed sanctions against delinquent China

On the whole, we do not ban countries simply because their regimes don’t share the same liberal values as our own.


Whatever you might otherwise think of the new series of the Crown, there is one rather good episode concerning Margaret Thatcher’s standoff with the Queen over attempts by Commonwealth leaders to impose economic sanctions on apartheid South Africa.

The depiction of an intransigent Thatcher stubbornly refusing to sign off on whatever form of words the Commonwealth came up with is historically entirely accurate, unlike large parts of the rest of the series.

Thatcher was no lover of apartheid, but she didn’t believe in sanctions as an appropriate way of fighting it. In her view, they were a crime against the greater good of free trade, and would only succeed in making everyone in South Africa, not just the whites, poorer.

I wonder, then, what she would have made of the growing chorus of calls for action against China, whose apparent abuse of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and of ethnic minorities in the northwestern province of Xinjiang, nevermind the regime’s mercantilist manipulation of the West’s free-trade norms, might indeed justify the imposition of sanctions.




No one can of course know the answer to that question, but I doubt she’d have been in favor of complete commercial disengagement of the sort the Commonwealth was demanding in regards to South Africa.

If we were to apply western standards of human rights, and of free and fair competition, universally to all countries, then we would end up trading with no one at all beyond