U.S. and China spat while GOP Congressman and Chinese dissidents decry Hillary Clinton's recent stance on Chinese human rights
In U.S.-China relations, a series of shoes have been dropping within the past week (Feb. 20-26, 2009).
Shoe #1. Hillary Clinton, in Seoul, South Korea, speaking to reporters on her way to China, said that while the U.S. would continue to press China on human rights issues, "our pressing on those issues can't interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis." Clinton telegraphed her intentions, attitude, and prioritization for human rights. We learned that human rights are de-emphasized in her foreign policy, and that she has no ambitions to prevail upon Chinese leadership for actual improvement in that area. Indeed, Clinton said, "We pretty much know what they are going to say," and it was reported that she would "agree to disagree."
Shoe #2. Rights groups slammed Hillary Clinton for those remarks. In fact, we could speak of Shoe #2A, from Amnesty International, Shoe #2B, from Students for a Free Tibet, Shoe #2C, from the China Support Network, and Shoe #2D, from the Wei Jingsheng Foundation. Amnesty was "shocked and extremely disappointed." SFT said, "The US government cannot afford to let Beijing set the agenda." CSN said, "Hillary Clinton played her cards by basically folding," and called for Clinton to resign, within an article titled "Hillary Clinton Visits Her Communist Masters In Beijing." Leading dissident Wei Jingsheng wrote to Clinton, "There is a huge wave of criticism of your conduct related to your China visit" because she did not "re-emphasize the human rights issue in China."
Shoe #3. On Sunday, Hillary Clinton said, "We have to incur more debt ... the US needs the investment in Treasury bonds to shore up its economy to continue to buy Chinese products." Apparently, philosophers can stop wondering about the meaning of life. As per Clinton's policy, the meaning of life is "to buy Chinese products."
Shoe #4. GOP Congressmen piled on. For a Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said, "In a shocking display of pandering, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear in Beijing, that the Obama Administration has chosen to peddle U.S. debt to the largest dictatorship in the world over combating torture, forced abortion, forced labor, religious persecution, human sex trafficking, gendercide, and genocide."
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) asked rhetorically, "Silence is itself a message. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, 'In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.' America has always been a friend to the oppressed, the persecuted, the forgotten. Has our allegiance changed?"
Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) said, "For 200 years, people living in oppression around the world have looked to the United States for inspiration and support for their cause," Pitts said. "We should not turn our backs on the importance of international human rights because we are in a recession. We must not let human rights become trivialized. I urge Secretary Clinton to repair the damage she has done with her comments by expressing the importance of human rights in the U.S. relations with all nations, especially China."
Shoe #5. Addressing Congress on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama said, "We are working with the nations of the G-20 to...avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism." Evidently, nothing -- not human rights, not economic sanity, and not even national security -- will be allowed to interfere with the administration's highest priority, "to buy Chinese products." The disclosure led to Shoe #4B, my article in which I nicknamed Obama "The President of Bait and Switch."
Shoe #6. On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department (without comment by Hillary Clinton) criticized China in a new report released about its human rights abuses. According to the AP, "The State Department report covers 2008 and was largely drafted during President George W. Bush's administration, although Clinton signed off on the findings." Amnesty International praised it as a "candid review of the worsening human rights situation in China."
The Wednesday report "accuses China of stepping up cultural and religious repression of minorities in Tibet and elsewhere and increasing the detention and harassment of political dissidents. It said authorities continued to limit citizens' right to privacy, freedom of speech, assembly, movement and association. Authorities also committed extrajudicial killings and torture, coerced confessions from prisoners and used forced labor," according to the AP.
Shoe #7. China itself fired back. It criticized the State Department report and issued its own report about human rights failings on the part of the United States. According to China, the U.S. has "violent crime, a wide wealth gap, police abuse of force, racial discrimination and unemployment." China's report also faulted the U.S. for human rights abuses beyond its shores, like in Iraq.
Shoe #8. A Thursday press conference was scheduled to repeat the Congressional criticism of Tuesday, but this time joined by Congressman Mike Pense (R-IN) and human rights campaigners Wei Jingsheng, Harry Wu, Rebiya Kadeer, Sharon Hom, and Bob Fu. Fu, the President and founder of ChinaAid.org -- which focuses on Christian persecution -- said, "It's disheartening to hear Secretary Clinton's remarks that human rights issue will be a 'non-interference' factor to other so-called crisis issues - the economy, environment and security, implying somehow that universal human rights or human lives are irrelevant or have nothing to do with the 'three big items.' On the contrary, a country disrespecting and disregarding of its own citizens' basic rights and value will make the U.S. and the world less prosperous, more polluted and less safe."
Additional dismay. Commentators in articles have also been expressing dismay at the situation. The International Herald Tribune ran a column by Connecticut-based academic Sonia Cardenas. It noted, "recognition that human rights is one of several interrelated foreign policy interests is well established in domestic legislation and political discourse.
"This is what makes Clinton's remarks all the more baffling. She was not obligated on this visit, her first official one to China, to delineate specifics. She could have taken a pragmatic stand, issuing a vaguely worded but firm statement supporting human rights.
"Instead, she went out of her way to downgrade human rights, placing economic, environmental and security relations above the abuse of countless individuals under Chinese rule - members of minority and religious groups who are systematically repressed, detainees and prisoners who are tortured, human rights and civil society activists arbitrarily detained, women and children routinely subjected to violence and discrimination and tens of thousands without recourse to an effective justice system, as well as widespread censorship."