I am happy to hear that you and others have been giving this a lot of thought. My mind circles these issues often, and it can be distressing, and its definitely complicated.
I am definitely not representing anyone's opinions except my own. The Dalai Lama has stated over and over his well thought out compromise solution, which he appropriately terms "the middle way approach," (supported by the democratically elected Tibetan Exile Parlaiment - Karshag). He is not calling for independence from China. Actually, he stopped calling for Independence in 1979. The Chinese continue to pretend that they don't understand this so that they can continue to label him a 'counter revolutionary splittist' and ignore his position, a solution that is actually very favorable for China. It is an issue of face for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party). By backing off any of their previous claims that HHDL (who they've called a demon in monk's robes) is trying to create a counter revolution, then they implicitly admit that they've been wrong on some level, which the hard headed bastards can't do in front of their citizens.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has not been calling for a boycott. However, HHDL is politically moderate, looking for compromise solutions. He has to: it is the only realistic approach for him as the de-facto representative of the Tibetan people. He has been pressing for a mutually beneficial solution for the Chinese and Tibetans both inside and outside of Tibet. I agree with the Dalai Lama: the Chinese people are great people (though sadly misinformed usually) and they are our friends and brothers. Our beef is with the CCP.
I am not a political moderate. We as Americans don't have to kowtow to the CCP: we don't have to depreciate our position to make the Chinese listen to us. Why? The Chinese already listen to us, because we have been making them rich, and they don't want that to stop. I personally have adopted what some would view as a radical position: calling for a 100% boycott. There are two results to taking a radical position. One is that the other side becomes radically polarized against your radical position. I don't think this will happen. The other is that you pull the opposition or third parties into a more favorable moderate position from your point of view. I call for a boycott, you look for a compromise, and then the compromise looks way better and you seem to be the level-headed one. My radical view puts the free traders (who don't give a fuck about fair trade and all its implications) into a radical position. That way, the free and fair trade position becomes the moderate position (which is the compromise solution that HHDL would be in favor of, that would be an actual solution). So while I recognize that a full boycott is unreasonable from most points of view, I'll still scream and yell about it.
China's Most Favored Nation Trade Status should be revoked.
I take a great exception to the statement that, "in general, I think our trading relationship with China has been beneficial to both our countries overall." Every month the US is cutting 30,000, 40,000, 60,000 jobs. Many of these are manufacturing based. Why can't we make shit in America and buy that shit in America, since Americans love to buy shit so much. Are we incapable?
The US government should adopt a policy of Free and FAIR Trade, ensuring that the companies that US companies do business with are sustainable environmentally, and conform to our standards of labor policies. Sure, this is idealistic, but wasn't the New Deal also idealistic? Or Reconstruction after the Civil War idealistic? Or moving from a Fossil Fuel based economy to a Renewable based economy?
I agree that the way the US has gone about appying sanctions has been largely ineffective in the past, taking Cuba, Iraq and Iran into account. However, I do believe that economic sanctions are effective in some circumstances, and I think that this is one. The CCP and especially the PLA (people's liberation army) own many of the companies that manufacture the goods that we import. They own many corporations that we do business with. They are making money through taxes and direct ownership of these organizations. Much of this money is used for military purposes.
A boycott is justified on some of these grounds:
1) The CCP's Human Rights record in mainland China and minority areas. Brutal repression of Uighers, Tibetans, Ui, Kazakhs, Inner Mongolians, East Turkestanis, Krzhgks, the FaolinGong practitioners, student activists for democracy, any activists for anything, labor advocates, mass forced moves, etc., etc., etc.
2) The CCP's direct military aid to the Sudanese goverment. They've sold planes before the UN Resolution in 2005 banning direct military aid to the brutal Sudanese gov't. Since then, they've sent PLA men to train the Sudanese pilots, in direct violation of the UN Resolution. These pilots used the Chinese jets to bomb civilian villages in Darfur. Also, they've sent Chinese army lorries (trucks) that have been mounted with Chinese anti-aircraft guns and used against civilians in Darfur. Know what happens when you shoot up a mud house with an anti-aircraft gun? This is well-documented.
3) CCP military aid to the Burmese Junta, who really showed their best face after Cyclone Nargis.
4) CCP military (including missile weapons technology) aid to North Korea.
5) CCP military aid to Iran (including missile weapons technology), Iranian military aid to terrorists organizations.
6) Secret submarine base in the Indian Ocean, upsetting the balance of naval power in the region.
7) Chinese military aid to Pakistan. Unfortunately, we do this too.
8) Chinese direct military aid to President Mugabe's brutal and undemocratic regime in Zimbabwe.
9) Nuclear silos in Tibet, threatening our close ally India and our allies in Central Asia. I like the opening line to this article, "I guess China's rise is peaceful until the day that it isn't."
10) The lack of environmental regulations or enforcement in China. They are fucking their environment to produce the goods that we buy. The earth's environment is a single system. Digging up the mountains in Tibet for Iron Ore has effects elsewhere. Chinese air pollution drifts to Alaska, Hawaii and California, bringing acid rain. Global warming. etc, etc, etc. In some ways this is improving, from the point of view of how bad it was before.
11) The lack of labor standards in China. Maybe this is getting better, in mainland China at least, but partially because of the pressure put on them from abroad.
12) The lack of public health and safety standards and enforcement for Chinese goods. Toxic toothpaste, dog food, lead paint for kids toys, generally shitty craftsmanship, etc.
13) The lack of a free press in China. Conventional wisdom tells us that liberalizing the economy and encouraging free trade should lead to more a more democratic state. This is ostensibly why Nixon and Reagan and everybody else got over their fear of Communists and gave China the MFN trade status. This hasn't happened. This only happens with a free press, encouraging accountability to the people, not just accountability to the Party. Really, we don't know what the fuck is going on in Tibet, East Turkistan, and Inner Mongolia, because there is no independent media there.
14) The fact that it seems that they lie about almost everything. They even faked a bunch of the opening ceremonies for the Olympics. The supposed 54 children from the 54 minorities were actually ALL HAN CHINESE!!!
15) Systemic Racism against the minority groups. Hard to get a job in Lhasa if you are a Tibetan, because for most good jobs you have to pass the exams in Chinese language, and all the gov't jobs the tests are in Chinese language. This would be OK if they actually invested in schools throughout the minority areas to teach kids. I've been to rural Tibet: there aren't any schools, public water facilities or health clinics. The people there are dirt poor, looking a lot worse than the folks in the rural areas of India or Nepal. In the past, the monasteries were the repositories of education, traditional Tibetan medicine (which is actually effective against many ailments), but the PLA and Red Guard destroyed 6,000 of them.
16) Pledged reform before the Olympics never happened. The CCP pledged all kinds of reforms to the IOC in order to be awarded to the games. Most of these haven't happened, and the repression in Tibet has definitely gotten worse. In fact, most Tibetans in Tibetan areas are currently confined to their home villages. Travel in many areas in Tibet for Tibetans has basically been banned. And they definitely didn't get to go to the Olympic games.
17) Decline of US manufacturing sector due to Chinese competition.
So when will the people of China stand up and demand their freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble peacefully, freedom to actively participate in a democractic political process? It may never happen if we keep enriching their rulers, and continue to buoy their economy at the expense of ours.
This is where I'm at these days. What do you think?