US, China trading blows on rights

By Richard Halloran  / 

Thu, May 02, 2013 - Page 8

Like a couple of children flinging mud, the US Department of State and China’s State Council Information Office have gotten into an intense quarrel over human rights. Washington has accused China of coercion and torture, while Beijing contends that the US has “turned a blind eye to its own woeful human rights situation.”

First, the US Department of State published its annual review of human rights around the world, which included a denunciation of China for “severe official repression of the freedoms of speech, religion, association, and harsh restrictions” on ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet.

Two days later, the Chinese shot back, contending that “firearms-related crimes posed a serious threat to the lives” of US citizens. Political contributions, the Chinese argued, “had, to a great extent, influenced electoral procedures.” Further, the US government has expanded eavesdropping and censoring of personal communications.

So it went, in sharp contrast to the diplomatic platitudes uttered by Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) and US Secretary of State John Kerry during Kerry’s visit to Beijing earlier this month.

In statements to the press, Yang reaffirmed “the agreement on building a cooperative partnership and exploring a new type of major country relations between China and the United States.” Kerry applauded Chinese leaders who had “articulated a vision of a stronger relationship with the United States.”

This jabbing over human rights raised a question for both governments: What right did it have to judge the record on human rights of another sovereign nation? Who authorized the US Department of State and China’s State Council Information Office to criticize human rights on the other side of the Pacific Ocean?

To put it more bluntly, maybe someone should tell them both to “mind your own business.” Yet, as Kerry said: “These reports send a very clear message that all governments have a responsibility to protect universal human rights.”

The State Department’s report, which was mandated by the US Congress in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Trade Act in 1974, assesses the state of human rights in every country from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Among the most extensive reports is that on China, with most information apparently gathered from open sources.

The report said that “efforts to silence and intimidate political activists” had increased, adding that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities had resorted to enforced disappearances and house arrest. Other tactics included extrajudicial killing, executions without due process, incommunicado detention and prolonged detention at holding facilities known as “black jails.”

Further, the State Department charged, confessions were coerced from prisoners, while harassment of lawyers, journalists, writers and dissidents was commonplace. A lack of due process in judicial proceedings, political control of courts and judges, closed trials and administrative detention were widespread.

Non-governmental organizations were subjected to intense scrutiny, the US report said. Women were discriminated against as were persons with disabilities. A coercive birth-limitation policy in some cases resulted in forced abortions, sometimes at advanced stages of pregnancy, or forced sterilization. Corruption remained widespread.

In Beijing, the State Council Information Office, clearly awaiting the US report, lashed back but without, for the most part, trying to refute Washington’s allegations.

The Chinese said the US report was “full of carping and irresponsible remarks on the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions including China.”

In turn, the Chinese declared, in the US, “the police often abused their power, resulting in increasing complaints and charges for infringement upon civil rights. The proportion of women in the US who fell victim to domestic violence and sexual assault kept increasing.”

“The US has become one of the developed countries with the greatest income gap,” the Chinese report said. “About 16.4 million children lived in poverty and, for the first time in history, public schools reported more than one million homeless children.”

Moreover, “serious sex, racial and religious discrimination” afflicted the US, it said.

“The US seriously infringed upon human rights of other nations,” the Chinese report added. “In 2012, US military operations in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan caused massive civilian casualties. US soldiers had also severely blasphemed against local residents’ religion by burning copies of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.”

Finally, the Chinese, who are quick to accuse others of interfering in China’s internal affairs, appeared to insert themselves into a political debate that rages throughout the US, claiming: “The US is among the few developed countries without health insurance covering its whole population.”

Was that an endorsement of Obamacare?

Richard Halloran is a commentator in Hawaii.