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WorldVoices: China Lashes Out

[Editor’s Note: WorldVoices—a new recurring feature of the WorldPolicy blog—links to opinion and analysis of current events from English-language news sources around the globe.]

By Eleanor T. West

On April 8, 2011 the U.S. State Department issued the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, in which it accused China of disregarding human rights, specifically through extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. It also reported discrimination against women, minorities and people with disabilities, closed trials, forced labor, limits on freedoms to assemble, increased attempts to restrict freedom of speech and internet access, and the failure to protect asylum-seekers.  As part of a recent crackdown on dissent, the Chinese government detained dozens of activists, lawyers and artists, among them the artist Ai Weiwei, leading to international outcry.   

Predictably, Chinese officials claimed the report was hypocritical and unwarranted.  China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Hong Lei, responded to the allegations by advising the United States to question its own standard of human rights. He went on to state that the United States should stop acting as a “preacher of human rights” and that it should not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. 

An editorial in China’s People’s Daily Online, the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, accused the United State of  hypocrisy.

The United States, the world's richest state, is beset by rampant gun violence, serious racism, and an increasing portion of its population have become poorer, a report released yesterday by China on U.S. human rights said. 

In the U.S. the violation of citizens' civil and political rights by the government is severe, the report said. Between October 2008 to June 2010, more than 6,600 travelers were subject to electronic device searches, half of them are American citizens.

On the global stage, the U.S. has a "notorious record of international human rights violations", said the report. The U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already caused huge civilian casualties.

Wen Xian attacked the United State’s use of the human rights report in an opinion piece for the People’s Daily Online.

The report, a product of the Cold War, is a tool that the United States has used to assert its right to interfere with other countries' internal affairs in the name of human rights from the very beginning. From the release of the report, we can see that the United States still regards itself as the only country allowed to govern all others, and it obviously indicates the might and overbearing nature of the United States on human rights. So, the United States should really stop acting like "preacher" of human rights.

Across the Straits, the report was welcomed by Taiwanese commentators.

Frank Ching’s discussed the failings of the Chinese judicial system in his commentary in the Taiwan-based China Post.

Chinese officials like to say that other countries should respect China's “judicial sovereignty.” Well, the judicial system would certainly earn more respect if it were independent of the government and of the Communist party and if defendants were given the rights set out in the nation's laws.

[A]i Weiwei's detention shows that this is not the case. Last Thursday, a foreign ministry spokesman said that “Ai Weiwei is under investigation on suspicion of economic crimes” and that the case “has nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression.”

The fact that the authorities resort to extralegal measures is not denied even by the official Chinese press. The China Daily, for example, reported last October on “black jails” in which petitioners are illegally held.

Sofia Wu disparaged China’s disregard of human rights in an editorial for Focus Taiwan, published by the national news service of Taiwan.

Surely, the report exacerbates U.S.-China friction over human rights issues. What concerns us most is not whether Washington-Beijing ties will worsen but rather China's ignorance of the importance of building up a system to promote such universal values as freedom, democracy and basic human rights following its emergence as a new economic power.

[D]emocracy and human rights are imaginary issues in China, as they have never existed there since the Communist Party took power.

[E]conomic growth seems to have only helped reinforce China's resistance to democracy. Instead of enhancing its self-confidence to tolerate criticism and political dissent, economic strength has only made China more capable of suppressing dissidents and opponents.

 

Eleanor T. West is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.

Photo courtesy of flickr user TalkMediaNews.

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