Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Right words, wrong person

US President George W. Bush has “deep concerns” about the human rights situation in China, and he intends to say just that during a speech in Bangkok, Thailand, on Thursday, just before he arrives in China for the Olympic Games starting on Friday. “America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists,” Bush is expected to say, based on transcripts of his speech released by the White House on Wednesday. “We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly and labor rights … because trusting [Chinese] people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential.”

This is all nice and well, except for one thing: Bush is the one making the speech. Given his own atrocious track record on respecting human rights both at home and abroad — to wit, the imprisonment of thousands of Muslims, the great majority of whom were innocent, in the US following 9/11, domestic antiterrorism laws that have seriously undermined the liberties and freedoms of US citizens and people transiting through the US, the Guantanamo Bay prison system, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, the illegal invasion of Iraq, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the normalization of torture — Bush is hardly the right person to lecture the Chinese Community Party (CCP) on freedoms and liberties.

This is not to say that China does not have a huge human rights mess on its hands — it certainly does — and the entire global community should be saying similar things to the CPP leadership. The problem with Bush’s plea it that it will fall on deaf ears, as he has no credibility whatsoever and no one in Beijing will take him seriously, just as Pakistani President (or dictator) Pervez Musharraf, or Uzbek President (or dictator) Islam Karimov, to name just two of the US’ allies in the “war on terror,” continue to ignore Bush’s lectures on democracy while his government continues to give them billions in military aid. It is akin to a mass murderer telling a prison cell mate “Thou shalt not kill,” or a bank robber telling a car thief that the latter’s chosen profession is reprehensible.

The Associated Press may editorialize that Bush’s speech is likely to “anger” China, and Beijing will likely oblige by expressing that “anger” and continue claiming that China’s behavior domestically is no one’s business, but in the end this is all shadow boxing, the games cynics — democratically elected and authoritarian alike — play over the heads of enfeebled populations.

The speech is fine. The lecturer is a fraud.


Robert said...

I just saw the headline on Yahoo! and I didn't bother reading it.

Bush's having said that to China probably set the Chinese human rights movement back.

Stefan said...

Well, I don't see it as pessimistic as you guys. Granted Bush has zero moral authority, but he still has an influence on the western world. My hope is that other western leaders would now make similar statements, rather than being afraid of "offending" the Chinese government. It used to be that politicans needed to pay at least lipservice to criticizing China's human rights record when they wanted to visit there. I think it would be a good step to get back to that.

MikeinTaipei said...

Thanks for the comments. Not sure Bush's comments would set back the human rights movement. Stefan: I fully agree that Western leaders should say more about HRs in China; however, my point was that Bush might just have too heavy a baggage to be taken seriously, regardless of whether he means what he says or not. Sadly, as well, it seems that Beijing will not listen unless there is real pain attached to non-compliance, such as in trade and so on, as it easily discards criticism that pertains to its "domestic" affairs.

Robert said...

What I mean by setting back the Chinese Human Rights movement is that its likely to reinforce the idea that democracy and attention to human rights is a "Western Idea" (which it's note) that has no place in Asia (which it does), and Bush's lack of a moral high-ground is likely also to bolster those in China who feel that the US deals only in double standards, holding hundreds of people in Guantanamo without a trial, while decrying the treatment of Chinese prisoners.

Robert said...

by "which it's note" I mean "not."

MikeinTaipei said...

Robert: Couldn’t agree with you more — it’s the double standards (see ruling on Salim Hamdan in Guantanamo Bay today for further proof) that give Bush no moral constituency whatsoever. And this time around, he’s made no mention whatever of Taiwan as a “role model” for democracies in the region. I think, however, that the concept of “Asian values,” or that democracy is a “Western concept,” has been discredited and that whatever Bush says will not change that, regardless of what Beijing says.