President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China, the latter of whom recently graced the United States with a visit, may at least say they see eye to eye on the issues of global warming and cyber espionage. Whether that agreement will have any meaningful results remains to be seen.
However, human rights inside China remains a sticking point, at least among people who care about such things more than trade with the aspiring superpower. As the Washington Free Beacon reports, Xi has instituted the most savage campaign of repression since Mao’s Cultural Revolution that started in the late 1960s. That is saying something, since the repression that lasted for ten years between 1966 to Mao’s death in 1976 killed a million and a half people and caused millions more to be imprisoned.
“Since becoming leader of China’s Communist Party in 2012 and president the following year, Xi has launched a sweeping crackdown against all forms of dissent from the government. Human rights groups estimate that more than 2,000 activists have been harassed, detained for some length of time, or tortured by authorities as a result of their advocacy. Human rights lawyers, journalists, non-government organizations (NGOs), citizen activists, Christians, and minority Tibetans and Uyghurs have all been targeted.”
Thus far, the Obama administration seemed to be unwilling to move beyond rhetoric to address China’s human rights abuses. It is an old problem. President George H. W. Bush was unable to respond effectively to China’s Tiananmen Square Massacre that occurred in 1989. The inability to come to grips with China’s human rights abuses has proven to be a bi-partisan problem.
Sometimes the reluctance to do anything, even symbolically, has achieved a kind of surreal state that makes one wonder what politicians in Washington are thinking. As the Washington Examiner reported, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a presidential candidate, brought a measure to the floor of the Senate that would rename the street in Washington upon which the Chinese Embassy is situated after Dr. Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Prize winner who has been imprisoned by the Beijing regime. Cruz proposed that the bill be taken out of committee and approved by unanimous consent.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California objected, which blocked the bill from immediately being approved. She said, “The consultations with others haven’t been made. It was precipitously brought to the floor, and I can only infer that it’s got political implications because the president of China is due to arrive here tomorrow.” In other words, Feinstein was keen not to see Xi embarrassed when he visited Washington.
Senator Obvious was correct that embarrassing Xi was the point of the legislation. Cruz’s point is that a person who throws political and religious dissidents into prison and tortures them ought to be embarrassed, at every opportunity. Feinstein seemed to have a problem with this.
President Obama also had a problem about confronting Xi with his human rights abuses. BizPac Review noted that the president went so far as to cover the windows of the White House so that the Chinese president would not have to gaze upon protestors while he was having his meal at the state dinner.
Free trade is a good thing, of mutual benefit to countries that engage in it. On the other hand, requiring countries to treat their citizens with respect and decency is also a good thing. No Western business person would think of going into a venture with a man who beats his wife or abuses his children. At the very least when proposing to do business with countries that imprison and tortures its own citizens, bringing the matter up would seem to be good policy,
A campaign to pressure China into stopping its human rights abuses would be to Beijing’s long-term benefit. China’s 4,000-year history may have persuaded it that order and repression to maintain that order are paramount for organizing a society. America’s 240-year history, during which the government (with some exceptions) tolerated and even encouraged dissent, suggests that the exact opposite is true. China would prosper more than has been the case if it allowed alternate ideas to enter the marketplace, to compete freely so that the best rises to the top.
The more that China can be encouraged to become freer, the better it will be for both China and the United States.