As 2009 came to a close, human rights issues in China were hot topics as China executed a British citizen for drug smuggling and sentenced a "serial dissident" to 11 years in prison. Demonizing China for its alleged human rights violations is a long observed tradition in Washington. This demonetization took on a greater furor when President Obama took a very low key approach to human rights in China during his visit to Shanghai and Beijing in November, 2009.
This was the first time in the history of relations between the two countries that Washington could not dictate to China about human rights or economic issues. China had come into own as a world power. This signified America's decline due to ill advised wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a world wide economic crisis largely caused by America and a burgeoning multi-trillion dollar deficit which is partially being financed by China. The realities of the world coming home to roost did not, and does not sit well with most Americas. The fact that America could not dictate to China about human rights anymore also was a great disappointment to international human rights groups and activists.
Particularly scathing criticisms of China followed the execution of British citizen and convicted drug smuggler Akmal Shaikh. Supporters of Shaikh, which included the government of Germany and Great Briton all loudly claimed that he was mentally ill, and thus should be exempt from execution. Washington was uncharacteristically quiet, due to the fact that it is the only democracy in the world that still executes convicted criminals, some ofwhom are considered to be mentally ill or retarded.
Naturally, China defended the execution and admonished its critics to stop meddling in its affairs, and rightfully so.
Chinese culture, and hence the Chinese judicial system is much different than Western cultures and judicial systems. In China, there is a very fine line between guilt and innocence. Either you committed an offense or you did not. Accepting responsibility and hence accountability for your actions is an integral part of Chinese culture. In the West, personal accountability is not typically on the agenda. Everyone is trying to make excuses for their anti social behavior; looking for sympathy and loop holes. This type of attitude is something that is an antithesis to Chinese culture.
Citizens of Western countries are increasingly becoming involved in crimes in other countries, and in particular drug-related offenses. China has a zero tolerance position on drug smuggling, and should be respected for that policy. If China had given in to the foreign clemency demands it would haveeffectively opened the door to other foreign drug smugglers thinking that they could avoid taking responsibility for their actions in the future.
The message that China has rightfully, clearly and loudly sent to the rest of the world is that "if you want to come to China, obey and respect not only our laws, but also our culture." This message, in an on-line poll, had the support of 99% of Chinese people taking the poll.
Serial offending Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was another catalyst for human rights complaints against China. Liu (family name) has served 5 years in prison for two separate convictions stemming from his pro democracy writings and activities. The official charge for his most recent conviction is "incitement to subvert state power" which stems from him being a co-author of Charter 08, which was a manifesto demanding "open elections and the rule of law." Demands for freedom of the press, speech and religion were also included in the manifesto.
The two most vocal critics of Liu's conviction and sentence were German and the United States. Both countries called for the release of Liu. The Chinese government resisted these calls with the traditional accusation that other countries were engaged in a "gross interference in China's judicial internal affairs."
There is substantial merit to the accusation of interference made by Beijing. The question that begs to be answered is whether democracy isalways good for all people of the world?
America has been engaged in the "job" of bringing human rights to peoples of the world for almost a century. It has tried to accomplish this task using many different methods ranging from missionaries to preach Christian values to using deadly force. Throughout Asia, its efforts have been dismal at best. In recent history, neither Afghanistan nor Iraq has been able to function as democracies. In less recent history, the failures of the democracy movement were most poignantly exhibited in both Korea and Vietnam.
What America and human rights activists fail or refuse to admit is that people need to be controlled. America certainly recognizes that fact, which is evidenced by it having not only the most laws, rules and regulations of any country in the world, but also the most people negatively involved in the criminal justice system. The United States has 5% of the world's population and 23.6% of the world's prison population. Conversely, China has four times the population of the US and only about 18% of the US incarceration rate.
There is a significant difference between the cultures of China and the US. Chinese culture values a harmonious society while American culture,which demands individual rights, has created a dysfunctional society.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the vast differences in incarceration rates between the US and China is Chinese culture. Chinese people do not adapt very well to changes, instead being quite content to hang on to old values and traditions. These values and traditions emphasize family, community and society ties and conformance. The cultural and societal extremes seen in Western countries are not seen in China. Compared to China, the persuasive argument can be made that American society is extremely dysfunctional.
Today, more so than ever, America is also extremely dysfunctional politically. While China, with its single party form of government was able to implement an economic stimulus plan within months, America is still without a concrete stimulus plan. China emerged from the economic meltdown virtually unscathed, and brought with it much of Asia and the Pacific Region.
In April, 2009, action movie star Jackie Chan stated that he was not sure if it was good to have freedom or not. Chan, while not being an intellectual enshrined in some university or think tank, can draw on his experiences of living in both America and Hong Kong, as well as a general knowledge of human nature.