Everything is in the question. Back when the Cold War was raging, diplomatic relations between Eastern Communist governments and Western democracies were awful.

Nowadays, not only are diplomatic relations between Western democracies and dictators of the Middle East and Asian continents good, but there is an incredible amount of trade for goods in China, for example. It does not seem to bother anyone in Western democracies to trade with these countries, and thus directly finance the torture of innocents and even the expansion of the Communist ideology in China.

Why do Western democracies not tell dictators straight up that we do not appreciate their methods, and why do we spend money to protect them with the army when they come for a diplomatic visit when they clearly do not deserve protection?

  • 6
    Have the western propaganda started a new disc, that China is a dictatorship?
    – Anixx
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 11:06
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    @Anixx China is a dictatorship. This is just a fact; hell, their constitution calls themselves a dictatorship.
    – cpast
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 14:09
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    I removed the part about jail as it was distracting from the actual question.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 8:30
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    @cpast China is actually the only working meritocracy in the world, and is doing quite well. It's socialistic, but communistic only by name. /Someone who have lived and worked in China for years
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 19:48
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    @cpast See politics.stackexchange.com/questions/10546/… China's constitution states that The People's Republic of China "is a socialist state under the people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants," and that the state organs "apply the principle of democratic centralism."
    – liftarn
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 7:07

5 Answers 5


In politics, pragmatism beats idealism.

Let's take the OP's example China. Large parts of the European and American economy depend on Chinese companies as suppliers. A good example is the whole electronics industry. Practically any electronic device which is sold to consumers anywhere in the world contains parts "Made in China". But there are also other, less known markets where the Chinese are world-leading suppliers of critical goods. Risking bad relations with China might lead to trade complications or even a trade embargo. This would likely result in an outright collapse of large economies, because there is simply noone else in the world who can fulfill the demand, especially not as cheap. That means western democracies can simply not afford to ruin their relations with China. And China can't risk it either, because just as dependent as the west is on China as a supplier, China depends on the western world as consumers. This mutual dependence forces the relations to be far better than they should be from a pure ideological standpoint.

When you look at other totalitarian states which have good relations with western democracies, you will always find a reason why that relation is beneficial. Usually either trade relations or military interests.

  • Exactly what I was expecting. Although I am fairly confident the collapse you're talking about will happen in less than 15 years because of China's internal problem, but politicians are failing to see that coming.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 15:42
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    Take example of Saudi Arabia. Until now, this country is well known for violate human rights but the importance of their natural resources make him a valuable ally. Of course, this could change at any time. Politics is always changing.
    – nelruk
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 15:54
  • Yeah so in other words our comfortable lives are possible only because children are being exploited somewhere else. I already knew that but still this is really depressing I
    – Bregalad
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 15:57
  • @nelruk When it comes to Saudi-Arabia, it's more geopolitical interests. It's the only state in the region which has both the resources and the will to keep factions like ISIS or Al-Quaeda in check. Like with their recent military actions in Yemen, for example.
    – Philipp
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 20:21
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    @Bregalad It might sound cynical, but when we wouldn't buy their products, those exploited children would be unemployed and would be off even worse. Child labor might be cruel, but currently it's the only thing which prevents these children from starving. Export brings money into these countries which might get them a better future.
    – Philipp
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 20:31

Simply said: That's what diplomacy is about and it's useful. My own impression is that it's the urge to take a moral stance about everything that is new. And you have got to ask what purpose being all righteous would serve apart from giving the local public an occasion to feel smug.

There is no reason to think that it's an effective way to bring about change and even if Western democracies really had the power to remake other countries in their image, it's not entirely unproblematic to dictate (once again!) what they should do, even if it's apparently for the greater good.

What happened during the Cold War was very different. First of all, the two blocks did have diplomatic relations and you can find many interesting nuances (e.g. the way the People's Republic of China was treated), it's not like they did not talk at all.

Secondly, this was more about traditional power politics than a consistent moral compass. Everybody had allies that should have been unpleasant in light of their official ideology. Thus, the US could shun Cuba but cozy up to unsavoury dictators in Africa and elsewhere.

Of course, immunity is a sine qua non of diplomacy, a rule invented to move away from earlier practices like killing ambassadors and sending back their heads when you weren't happy about something. There is a very good reason it exists, especially between states that don't trust each other. Note that Western diplomats and international organisations also benefit from it and rely on it daily.

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    There is no reason to think that it's an effective way to bring about change and even if Western democracies really had the power to remake other countries in their image, it's not entirely unproblematic to dictate (once again!) what they should do, even if it's apparently for the greater good. The German Ostpolitik's main Mantra was "Change through convergence" and that was kinda successful
    – user45891
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 19:10

Why does western democracies not tell straight up to the dictators that we do not appreciate their methods, and why do we not put them in jail for they crimes when they come for a diplomatic visit instead of protecting them with the army and so on ?

You may be confusing diplomacy with military force.

Both are complex and hardly black and white, simple-to-manage processes. But diplomacy is nearly always preferred as it tends to cost a whole lot less both in money and lives. Jumping right to the military option stating "we will jail dictators" is not a practical solution (as you may have noticed over these past few decades in the middle east) :)


There are three reasons that you don't seem to have considered.

  1. Politics is not about morality. This is quite obvious by looking at the history of any nation. Morality is a tool for politicians, nothing more. People in Western nations generally don't care about the people being oppressed in nations halfway across the world. North Korea has the worst prisons imaginable, and Saudi Arabia (a country many Western countries sell weapons to) has genuine witch-hunts, but until it affects them, even indirectly, they will usually stay quiet. Politicians only care about using morality to manipulate public opinion.
  2. It's not even as simple, morally, as saying "they're evil, let's topple them and get some good guys in". There are parts of the world which, let's face it, are kind of a mess. So we support the regimes that aren't quite as bad with the hopes that we can work with them to make things better, rather than toppling them and ending up with someone worse. You can't magically make everything better overnight, you have to support whoever has the most chance of improving the situation.
  3. If you topple a government, you have to deal with the fallout. If you invaded North Korea, or even had it's leader assassinated, you would have to deal with millions of starving refugees that don't know how to use any modern technology. That might be the moral thing to do, but it's not a sound economic strategy and won't be good politically.

I might add that leaders generally only visit countries that are unlikely to risk war by jailing them. If Kim Jong-un decided to visit the US, you can be damn sure he'd end up in jail, hence why he's not likely to try.

Also, I don't know of any Western countries that can be said to have "excellent" relations with dictatorships. They're more somewhat begrudging acknowledgements of their existence. Let's count the ones I know off by heart:

  • Iran's only now resuming some semblance of diplomacy with the West.
  • Gaddafi was certainly no friend of the West when he was in power.
  • Islamic State is being bombed by pretty much everyone.
  • Relations with Putin's Russia are deteriorating daily, and when it was the Soviet Union, there was a thing called the Cold War.
  • China's really not that bad, but there are diplomatic consequences to their actions when they're naughty.
  • North Korea mentions every other week that they plan on burning the US in nuclear fire, and rights organisations constantly criticise them.
  • Saudi Arabia is a complicated case, given the number of extremists in the country that they somehow keep in line.
  • Cuba is, I think, still under embargo by the US.
  • It is safe to say that when the US is "naughty" as you say, there are no diplomatic consequences.
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 12:19
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    Um. Actually, there have been plenty of diplomatic consequences. The US isn't exactly well thought-of in the Muslim world. That's a diplomatic consequence. The UN has repeatedly condemned the US for invading Iraq and for Guantanamo Bay. In fact, I'd say that US foreign relations as a whole suffered greatly under Bush, and is only now starting to improve a little. Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 12:26
  • Consequences that made tangible change to US policy? I think not.
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 12:31
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    You call this not "doing anything"? Obama led airstrikes against many countries since his term began. The only difference is that he isn't sending troops. Not really an exception or change in US history.
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 12:47
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    @Bregalad The waves of refugees are not because of the so-called dictators but from encouraging rebellions and civil wars by the western powers. Since the regimes are not supportive of some western opinions and policies.
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 14:12

The rulers (which is not the same as the governments) of all countries care about one thing: increasing and/or protecting their wealth. This also applies to countries referred to as "western democracies". (It is hard to speak of a real democracy in a country such as the US where winning a presidential election costs $1 billion and where that $1 billion comes from a few very wealthy donors.)

A dictatorship in China, absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia, and authoritarian regimes past and current all over the world are perfectly acceptable to the rulers of "western democracies" as long as they are useful for achieving that one goal - expanding the rulers' wealth and power.

Once a regime becomes an obstacle to achieving the above goal, "western democracies" attempt replace it, by force if necessary, with a more cooperative regime as witnessed in Iraq, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, Iran, etc.

The recent events suggest that the current regime in China, after being useful for almost 40 years, is transitioning in the "not useful" group.

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