China Strikes Back at US Rights Record, and Why It’s Not Funny

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Every year, the US State Department puts out a report on how various countries treat their own people, and China usually doesn’t come off too well. In response, Beijing puts out its own report that documents the US record. China’s point: the US should shut up because it is being hypocritical.

The Western reaction to the China report ranges from outrage to amusement. “Hey, that’s funny, China is actually accusing us of abusing people’s rights. Those guys got balls saying that.”

Yes, hilarious. Except it isn’t really funny.

On this blog, I often write about trade protectionism and hypocrisy. I like to point out instances where the United States engages in protectionism and then turns around and criticizes other countries, like China, of doing the same thing.

I do this not because, as some of my readers have accused me of doing, I believe that the levels of protectionism are equivalent. The point is not who is the biggest bad guy but what is an effective trade strategy. If your goal as a nation is to reduce global trade barriers, then engaging in hypocritical behavior is counterproductive.

Another way to frame the issue is with respect to moral authority. If you’re a nation like the US that purports to be a staunch free trader, and you wish to persuade other nations to “follow your lead” on the issue, then you have to act like a leader. At the risk of being sanctimonious (when did that ever stop me before?), leaders lead by example, not by criticism and empty statements about “American exeptionalism.”

When it comes to free trade, the US has less moral authority to criticize others when it engages in trade protectionism. This is one of the problems I have with folks who argue for additional trade barriers — you can’t do this on the one hand, and on the other continue bashing China about its industrial policy and expect to get results. It’s an ineffective negotiation technique.

So it’s not a question of equivalency, it’s about being in the strongest position of moral authority to persuade others to adopt your ideals or policies.

And this is not just a trade issue, of course. Here’s an extreme example:

Imagine you are an American legislator in the Jim Crow South during the 1930s.1 You meet a visiting government official from Germany and criticize him for the Nazi regime’s Nuremberg Laws. The German official hits back on Jim Crow, telling you that you’re in no position to criticize.

Moral equivalency? Most Americans would say of course not, that as bad as the Jim Crow laws were, they were in no way comparable to what was going on in 1930s, and certainly 1940s, Nazi Germany. (FYI, some actually have made that argument, but that’s way outside of the scope of this blog.)

But moral equivalency isn’t the point. The issue is that the German official was in the position of using the US rights record, in the form of Jim Crow, against the US as a way of blunting American criticism. At the time, the argument was more like “You guys have your own racial problems, so stop complaining about us. At least we are trying to solve ours. You Americans don’t seem to be making much progress.” That kind of “progress” of course was not something the US particularly wanted.

No moral equivalency, but enough hypocrisy to blunt American criticism and therefore weaken its arguments. To put it another way, wouldn’t US objections have been even stronger without the presence of Jim Crow? That seems rather obvious.

If you didn’t like that example, then you probably won’t agree that the US has the same problem today. Sure, the State Department can issue a report condemning China’s actions, and probably the vast majority of details in the report are indeed troubling.

And yes, one might argue that whatever domestic problems the US has in this area are in no way comparable to the situation in China. That’s why many respond to the China report on the US rights record with amusement.

It’s also difficult comparing these abuses, since we often can’t even agree on terms. Here are a few of the items from the China report. What do these statistics actually say about US policy that is worthy of condemnation? Do the numbers indicate ongoing rights abuses?

  • A total of 44 million Americans found themselves in poverty in 2009, four million more than that of 2008. The share of residents in poverty climbed to 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest level recorded since 1994.
  • 14.7 percent of U.S. households were food insecure in 2009, an increase of almost 30 percent since 2006.
  • The number of Americans without health insurance increased from 46.3 million in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009, the ninth consecutive annual rise, which accounted for 16.7 percent of the total U.S. population.
  • More than 6,600 travelers had been subject to electronic device searches between October 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010, nearly half of them American citizens.

Americans talk about freedom of the press and locking up dissidents. China talks about the poverty rate, violent crime and health insurance. Apples and oranges.

Even so, there are some overlaps. Constitutional lawyer and blogger Glenn Greenwald, among many others, has been documenting some of the more troubling actions of the US government post-9/11 with respect to surveillance, illegal detentions, etc. These criticisms cannot be easily dismissed, and they lend themselves very easily to charges of hypocrisy.

Consider the recent crackdown in China of dissidents. A CNN article put the overall policy in context:

“It seems aimed at intimidating both those who have already been taken into custody and those who might worry about being next on the list.”

Chinese call this tactic “killing the chicken to scare the monkey” — a traditional practice of persecuting “scapegoats” to nip dissent in the bud.

Here’s a portion of a Greenwald post on the US case of Bradley Manning, who is accused of supplying Wikileaks with classified documents, and the Obama Administration’s record when it comes to whistleblowers:

“Manning’s conditions were being used ‘as a warning to future whistleblowers’.” Indeed, Manning’s treatment lacks even a pretense of justification; it — just like the Obama administration’s unprecedented war on whistle-blowers — is clearly meant to threaten and intimidate future individuals of conscience who, like Manning, might consider exposing government deceit, corruption and illegality[.]

Superficial similarity between the US case and what is going on in China? Perhaps, or maybe just a difference of degree. Either way, it’s a clear example of US policy undermining its moral authority and weakening the recent criticisms of the State Department.

So the China report on the US rights record is not amusing in its effrontery; it’s very existence is troubling.

What’s my point, that the US should simply shut up? Not at all. I’ll try to stay consistent with my stance on trade policy, which is not that the US should drop objections to trade protectionism, but rather it should take great pains not to engage in such behaviors itself.

If the US really wants China to change its behavior, it should combine criticism with an unassailable domestic and international record with respect to illegal detentions, assassinations, surveillance and other abuses.2 Unfortunately, even President Obama, a constitutional scholar in his own right, has already signed off on many of these abuses. In doing so, the US government has undermined its own moral authority and all but invited that report issued by China.

[Ironic note: Just a warning, but if you wish to comment on this post and use certain terminology, I may have to censor/edit. Otherwise I risk a keyword block of this post.]

  1. “Jim Crow” refers to a series of laws in several US states that institutionalized racial discrimination. []
  2. I’d also love to see the US deal with poverty, health care, and its criminal justice system, but I’m not holding my breath. Not enough Americans see these as moral issues. []

43 responses on “China Strikes Back at US Rights Record, and Why It’s Not Funny

  1. Kai

    Great post, Stan. I feel that many people who criticize China either don’t understand that accusing China’s hypocrisy defense as being mere deflection or shifting of attention doesn’t actually change the fact that the Chinese will still be less motivated to take your criticism to heart because of that hypocrisy.

    Another thing, and one I think is much more pervasive, is that every criticism that indulges in a tone of self-righteousness is vulnerable to and ultimately “blunted” by that hypocrisy defense. And the thing is, that self-righteousness wasn’t necessary or helpful anyway. All it is an expression of the criticizer’s ego, meant not to communicate anything of use to others except an assertion of one’s own identity and presumed superiority.

    Of course, we all make that mistake sometimes, which brings us full circle to acknowledging our mistakes to temper the hypocrisy and seek common ground for responding to valid criticisms working towards shared values. I’m dizzy now.

    1. mrdisco

      In fact China is not motivated to accept Western criticism under any conditions at all, whether or not Western countries are hypocritical. This, at least, should be clear to China watchers. The Chinese report is not justification for Chinese actions and it is not part of an earnest debate on policies or values. It is a joke and deserves to be treated as such.

  2. Julen

    I agree.

    There is however another angle that makes a stronger argument for China, that is foreign policy. I am surprised they didn’t use it this time, and they stuck to the fair play of domestic vs. domestic comparison.

    It is obvious that China cannot “win” on the domestic rights comparison today. Even in China most educated people realize this, but they rationalize it and accept it as a temporary situation while China is developing, which will slowly improve over the years (a not unreasonable position, IMO).

    But back to the foreign policy argument. Although it is not always stated so clearly, I understand it goes like this: Since human rights apply equally to all humans, and an Iraqi life is as valuable as an American or Chinese life, then the thousands of innocent people killed in a reckless, self interested and illegal intervention, which was consciously based on lies, are morally no different from the victims of Mao Zedong’s policies (Mao’s absolute numbers are larger, but that’s because he was dealing with a much larger population).

    And in any case, even if you consider only 10% of the victims of American foreign policy are innocent, the trampling of human rights is still orders of magnitude larger than the 100 odd dissidents that are soft-repressed in China, most of them getting away with a few months detention or house arrest.

    I am an old reader of this blog and this is not an attempt at trolling or sparking controversy. I just sincerely wonder how Americans rationalize this — I find myself considering this problem more and more often since I live in China, and I find it very hard to find a sound moral standpoint. I have no issue with people criticizing China’s abuses, just like many of us criticized the Irak war. What I find completely amazing is that millions of Westerners seem genuinely convinced that their governments are somehow less evil or more just than the Chinese one. Any answers?

    1. Stan Post author

      Shit, I still can’t understand why a country like the US can allow one in five kids to live in poverty at some point in their lives. So I guess I’m not the one to ask, since I’m just as confused as you are. If one is not even willing to acknowledge poor children in their own country, it’s no surprise that they wouldn’t care about anyone dying in Iraq or Afghanistan, etc.

    2. C. Custer

      @ Julen: A thought, and not saying this is my take on it, but I think the argument would be that (with some exceptions) the civilian deaths in Iraq, say, were in service of a greater good, and that ultimately (though certainly not in the short term), Iraqi human rights will be better off for having gotten rid of Saddam.

      Of course, that’s a debatable point. But it strikes me as pretty similar to the Chinese argument that its brutal human rights violations are all in the service of stability and that, in the long run, these cases won’t outweigh the greater improvements. Basically, on both sides, the argument is “some violations of human rights to ensure that in the future, human rights won’t be violated.”

      As Stan points out, part of the problem is also that “human rights” doesn’t seem to mean the same thing to the Chinese government as it does to anyone else.

      1. Stan Post author


        You’re right about the justification. Of course, in many cases those “justifications” are complete and utter bullshit, like the “making Iraq safe for Iraqis” crap that was invented when the war started going sideways on the neocons. Yikes. I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to the ends justifying the means, but there are limits . . .

      2. Kai

        Actually, we should say that “human rights” doesn’t mean the same thing to the Chinese government as it does to “many Westerners” but isn’t very different from many other people and nations in the world. As Westerners, we sometimes mistake our position of dominance as being in the position to represent “the rest of the world” or “anyone else”, but when you think about it, that’s not the case.

        This isn’t to defend human rights abuses contrary to our values, but to wisely remember just how mutable human rights are in socio-economic contexts very different from what most Westerners take for granted. There are reasons why human rights are infringed upon in many countries far poorer or less stable than our Western homelands, and why they were infringed upon in our own Western homelands’ pasts. I think if we more consistently reminded ourselves of this, we’d more consistently pause to think of better ways to communicate our values to more effectively “impress” them upon others.

      3. Julen

        @ Custer:

        >>”Of course, that’s a debatable point. But it strikes me as pretty similar to the Chinese argument that its brutal human rights violations are all in the service of stability and that, in the long run, these cases won’t outweigh the greater improvements. Basically, on both sides, the argument is “some violations of human rights to ensure that in the future, human rights won’t be violated.”

        Precisely, this is exactly what worries me.

        >>As Stan points out, part of the problem is also that “human rights” doesn’t seem to mean the same thing to the Chinese government as it does to anyone else.

        The problem of Human Rights is complex and old, and not limited to China. There’s been countless debates in the UN about it, with muslim or communist countries, for example, taking quite different views from the West. I think even between US and Europe there are some differences, see this editorial from the NYC that I commented (and strongly disagreed with) today:

        Agreeing on Human Rights is not easy, for sure. But I just don’t think we are doing the best efforts (neither China nor the West) to reach a common understanding, and then to give us the tools to ensure they are respected in the World.

  3. Tim

    Sadly the easiest way to reduce cognitive dissonance is not to change behavior but to change attitudes. In other words, finding a justification to ignore China’s complaints is a whole lot easier than actually attempting reform.

  4. slim

    Independent human rights groups that pull no punches in their analyses and criticism of the US are usually more scathing about China than the State Dept report is.

    The most useful thing about the annual State Dept report is that the benchmark is not an arbitrary sliding standard, but the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so each category can be checked over the years and country by country.

    That China’s report is not based on objective criteria (hell it’s mostly cribbed from US media outlets whose credibility China normally rejects) or motivated by anything beyond tit-for-tat does not relieve the Us of the burden of solving the social and economic problems you are pointing out.

  5. Joyce Lau

    Most of what’s covered in the China report are social issues — hunger, poverty, health care, etc. They aren’t what are conventionally known as human rights violations. I’m not dismissing the importance of social issues, just saying that they’re usually a different category.
    Given its own rural poverty and the sorry state of its hospitals, China is calling the kettle black on this one.
    The definition of “poverty” and “hunger” and vastly different when applied in a developing nation like China and in the richest, fattest major nation on earth.
    Most “hungry” inner-city American children are actually overweight — maybe too much cheap fast-food and not enough nutrition. But they are hardly “hungry” compared to the poor in Asia.
    Many American families under the poverty line still have cars, TVs and enough to eat. I remember hearing some Chinese immigrant friends in the US talk about the “safety net” of soup kitchens, Christmas food drives, free school lunches, etc, that poor Americans get.
    The 2011 poverty level was set at US $22,350 a year for a family of four. That’s more than RMB 12,000 a month.

    1. pug_ster

      You answered your question about China being a poor country and all the problems associated with it but that’s not the point. While most Americans have access to these cheap processed calorie rich foods, they could not afford more expensive items like meats and fruits and vegetables.

      1. Stan Post author

        Not to mention that precisely because the US has so much money, it shouldn’t tolerate any sort of child poverty. And we haven’t even discussed health care . . .

  6. wwww

    wouldn’t you think it is more progressive to include “hunger, poverty, health care, etc.” as rights. The Chinese government actually take it as its obligation whereas it is a lot easier to brush it aside as ” social issues”.
    It is like treating alcoholism as a medical illness and thus the job of a medical doctor with nothing to do with the individual.
    It is idiosyncratic to compare societies in absolute money values, rather than within the means of the society. You might as well conclude the american poor are all now living better than the extreme rich of previous generations.

  7. Joyce Lau

    @ wwww — Clearly, I am not for impoverished children anywhere. My husband and I donate to anti-poverty groups and I think social issues are very important.

    I’m just saying that, in general, when people speak of human rights abuses, it’s a different category of wrongs. I’m criticizing the Beijing PR tactic — it lashes back at coverage of dissidents and Internet censorship by digging up something, anything, it can use to criticize the West.

    The fact that there are homeless people in America doesn’t diminish Beijing’s rights problem. They are both important — but separate — issues.

    According to China’s logic, if there’s anything wrong in your home nation, you can’t say anything about any other nation. But that’s not how the world works outside the bubble Beijing built for itself.

    China’s reports are never taken seriously, even if some of the criticisms are legitimate. It’s because they are so clearly written out of defensiveness — and that tone comes through.

    International governments, media and groups seriously study rights issues. They devote money and effort to dig out news, get in touch with families, and lobby to get people out of jail. I don’t think China did an in-depth report on U.S. poverty, or that Beijing really cares to help poor kids in America. Honestly, it looks like they just cut and paste from U.S. news reports.

    China’s reports barely make a blip because the rest of the world is used to criticism, thanks to a free press. Does Beijing think Washington is going to be shocked that a foreign nation criticized Americas wars? Meh. It happens every day. Any idiot with an Internet connection knows all about Manning, WikiLeaks, Gitmo, civilians being bombed and urban poverty. Honestly, the US media is tougher on these issues than China is!

    On the other hand, if you’re in China, you can’t easily get information on dissidents, black jails, banned writers, etc. And, unlike the rest of the world, Beijing has a fit whenever outsiders report anything it doesn’t like. It’s just looking for an excuse to try to shut other people up.

    I wish the China report REALLY was a serious study on issues like poverty and war, but I don’t think it is. All I see is a thinly veiled propaganda exercise.

    @ Stan – It is pretty funny, in a sad way. Beijing is so tone deaf to how its responses play in the rest of the world. This happens over and over, whether it was the Confucius Prize fiasco or calling the Nobel committee “clowns”.

    Think of it from a PR point of view: China has one of the worst rights records among major nations. During a month when jailed dissidents and “disappearing artists” are making daily headlines, Beijing comes up with a report criticizing rights in America. Sure, it’s free to do that. But Beijing doesn’t have any sense of how ironic that looks.

    1. Kai

      I agree that the “human rights” China puts in its report are different from the “human rights” as most of us Westerners think of.

      I’m not sure I agree with the characterization that Beijing pointing out there are homeless people in America is an effort to diminish their own problems. I have to wonder why people interpret it that way. Does the Chinese government actually say “you have this problem so our problem is less of a problem?”

      I don’t think so.

      If we’re going to interpret counter-accusations as an effort to “diminish” one’s own problems, then that logic applies to accusations in general. Can’t we also interpret the US compiling a list of human rights abuses about other countries as an effort to “diminish” their own problems?

      What we have here is the US highlighting problems in other countries and one of those countries highlighting problems in the US in response. Why are we criticizing China’s response (which is hardly a surprising and unexpected one if anyone has ever gotten into a fight with another human being) instead of criticizing the United States’ presumption that it has the moral authority to criticize and chastise others?

      I don’t like this “According to China’s logic” as if China’s response is somehow unique to the Chinese. Whatever happened to “judge not lest ye be judged”? No one likes to be judged by others. If there’s a difference between the Americans and the Chinese it is that there is likely far more Chinese–defensive as they can be–who actually know that their country is very far from ideal than there are Americans. Furthermore, Westerners, much less Americans, are really in no position to define the “Beijing vs outside world” dichotomy. This is a really big world, when did we get to invoke the rest of the world as being on “our” side? When did we get to dictate how the “outside world works”?

      China’s reports are definitely clearly written out of defensiveness especially to those on the receiving end. But have we forgotten how many people see our reports as being written on the verge of shameless hypocrisy and self-righteousness? Why are we attaching so much importance to our reaction to their report rather than their reaction to our report?

      I agree that there people in international governments, media, and groups who genuinely care about the human rights issues and the people affected by them. I also agree that Beijing’s motive in writing the counter-report is not out of some genuine concern for America’s underprivileged. And yet this doesn’t change how easy it is to understand why each player does what they do. It doesn’t change the very real point Stan brought up of how moral authority is affected, and how that lends to or detracts from these efforts. China’s response is feedback. As Tim said above, we’re finding justifications to ignore China’s response instead of actually using that feedback to introspect on our own behavior.

      I really don’t think China as an international actor is really less used to international criticism than the “rest of the world” (there we go again) is. No, China’s just fed up with the criticism and yes, engaging in tit for tat antics. A lot of their responses are less to shock Washington and more as communications to its own domestic audience and audiences around the world in other countries that also get irked by the US’s pontificating and posturing. When you consider that he target audience of the report isn’t necessarily for Americans, you might understand the many other reasons why China makes such a report.

      “the US media is tougher on these issues than China is!”

      Doesn’t this sound just like the defensiveness we ascribe to China’s counter-report? See how that works?

      No one likes getting criticized. Every government responds to criticism lodged by other countries. Sure, some more than others, and I agree that China is quite tone deaf and PR-handicapped relative to many other nations. Nonetheless, these responses to China’s counter-report also serve to highlight just how trapped we are in our own mindset. We seem content to criticize others and then find reasons to laugh and disregard their responses instead of doing what Stan says:

      “If the US really wants China to change its behavior, it should combine criticism with an unassailable domestic and international record with respect to illegal detentions, assassinations, surveillance and other abuses.”

      Or, as Stan also says, having “moral authority”.

      You don’t need moral authority to say something, but you have to consider it if your real goal is to impress change as opposed to just defending your right to say something. Why are we interpreting China’s reaction as trying to shut us up when we should be interpreting it as a sign that we’re failing in our effort to influence them to change?

      I thought our criticisms were to help the people suffering, right? Or is it for us to vent? Feel self-righteous? Distract our domestic audiences? If our real goal is to influence change to help those people, we wouldn’t get hung up on feeling like we’re being told to shut up. We’d be hung up on how to communicate and influence in a more effective way.

  8. Anon

    Thought-provoking post and discussion. But we really shouldn’t hesitate in acknowledging the Chinese report for what it is. It was just an attempt to tell the US to “shut up,” rather than actually being a serious look at the issues that it purports to address.

    It really doesn’t bring anything to the table in terms of content that is not fully acknowledged and the focus of intense debate within the US government. You never hear USG maintain that it has the right to, for example, keep kids in poverty in the same sense that the Chinese government asserts its right to handle political dissent in whatever means it deems appropriate, “in accordance with the law.”

    Even on issues such as “anti-terror” provisions, the Patriot Act, etc., there is constant vocal criticism and debate both within and without government. Voluminous reports on these issues are published by government agencies, NGO’s, etc., and politicians and political candidates are always assailing each other for their failure to solve or their responsibility in creating the problems. An “enemy combatant” was able to fight the Secretary of Defense all the way to the Supreme Court and, for the most part, win, for heaven’s sake. There is no issue with Americans in or out of government being “willfully blind” to the injustices of their own system while “bashing” (as is the word of choice in the China context) others for their categorical failures.

    At the end of the day, the rubber hits the road when we start talking about the deeply ingrained systemic differences between the two systems of government, and it is those systemic aspects of the Chinese system that generate the most attention in these reports, which are largely academic in tone and really don’t purport to make qualitative judgments, however the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to characterize them. They are also highly relevant to garnering an understanding of some very important aspects of the Chinese political system generally, which is critical to any person, whether a business, a government official, or an NGO, that wants to get involved with China in any significant manner. It’s interesting that China’s report will almost certainly be a non-issue in the US. To the extent that China wants to publish reports on the US for the benefit of its citizens or anyone else, they are more than free to do so, especially if the information is generally accurate, as this report appears to be.

    1. Kai

      Let’s compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges here. The Chinese government doesn’t maintain the right to keep kids in poverty just like the American government maintains the right to handle instances it interprets as subversion in whatever means it deems appropriate “in accordance with the law”.

      There is definitely people in or outside of the US government who can be characterized as being “willfully blind” to the injustices of their own system while “bashing” others for their categorical failures. Are we reading the same voluminous reports?

      I agree with your last paragraph, but as I said in response to Joyce, I think there’s a willful blindness to the reasons why China would issue a counter-report and what our reaction to them doing so says about ourselves.

      1. Anon

        I think we are reading the same reports, but that we are not necessarily seeing the same context of which the reports are a part. Like I said, I know there are are some people in the US government and civil society with an axe to grind who use these reports for the wrong reasons. Perhaps it is fair to characterize these people as “willfully blind,” though narrow of purpose might be a better way to describe them. But looking at the US policy making and political process as a whole, each of these individuals or groups has its counterpart and then there are many more that fall somewhere in between. Think tanks and NGO’s, university departments, governmental commissions at all levels, newspapers and magazines and journals, political action groups, politicians themselves in their endless campaign cycles, and, yes, even what has now become an incredibly potent China lobby…They criticize and debate, argue and lecture, testify and interrogate without end. You cannot isolate the minority of actors in this milieu who refuse to see injustice in the US and only “bash” others. I can guarantee, for example, that the USG has gotten far more criticism from US actors over, for example, the Abu Ghraib atrocities than from international sources, even though international criticism was in fact extensive, relevant, and, for the most part, 100% fair.

        To call “Americans” self-righteous because the State Department issues a report that is relevant to a broad range of interests, from the commercial to the political, well beyond the human rights context, is absurd. Like I said, countries in today’s world, including China, have every right and even responsibility to comment upon the nature of each others’ systems. They can no longer be isolated from each other and hidden within their own borders asserting sovereign rights to do anything they want and not be on the receiving end of observation and/or criticism from abroad. But let’s not fool ourselves, particularly about two points: 1) The purposes and context of these reports in the US and China are objectively completely different, and this largely accounts for the fact that China’s report will not be taken seriously here; and 2) US citizens are easily the US’ own harshest critics.

        1. Sam

          As for your two points:

          1) Please enlighten me on how the purposes can be objective. If you meant that China had made objective and verifiable progresses in the human rights front and that’s because of these reports and rhetoric, I’d say the reasoning is totally your own. From my observations over the years, the pressure from the US usually peaks at the US elections or when the two US political parties attack each other. China could have easily dissolve them by sending in a delegate and start a shopping spree, then perhaps make a few token prison releases. And that suggests a totally different purpose and context than what you suggested.

          2) US citizens are sometimes the US’ own harshest critics, but US government are also consistently the hardest to change under such criticism. What progress has the US made in terms of those listed in the China report?

          1. Anon

            The reports, among the many many reports on many many different topics, are published annually whether or not there is an election that year. Since the Clinton-Bush I elections, when the issue was really China’s accession to the WTO and not China’s human rights record as such, human rights in China has not been an election issue in the US. On the basis of misinterpreting these points, you misinterpret my points about context.

          2. Sam

            I’m only trying to understand your points. By your logic, do something on a regular basis and doing it with something else makes its purposes objective. Is it?

        2. latinbass

          He means the US publishes these human rights reports as a reference, whereas China believes it’s a direct attack/criticism of them. Hence, the retribution aimed solely at the US. However, you could argue that the practice of publishing such reports stems from self-righteousness, misplaced moral authority, or just plain disregard for diplomatic consequences.

          1. Sam

            So you mean a regularly published reference can’t have a purpose for a direct attack/criticism?

            “What? Did I just hit you? No! I’m just flexing my muscle. What? You are bleeding? Not my problem. I’m just doing my regular thing. Look, I’m doing this every year, stretching my arms towards where your face happens to be located. Why every time you are bleeding, that’s beyond me.”

  9. latinbass

    I’m afraid this article is hopelessly naive.

    “it should combine criticism with an unassailable domestic and international record with respect to illegal detentions, assassinations, surveillance and other abuses.”

    Such a thing will never exist. No country, especially not a large/important country, will ever have an even remotely clean record. China’s goal is not to point out US rights issues for humanitarian reasons. This is eye for an eye, as everyone already knows. That means that no matter what America does, they will always find something to complain about. Why? Because they view America as a foreign enemy. I’m not saying the US shouldn’t brush up on human rights, but that’s not how to improve relations with China. You would have to please them on some diplomatic or economic level in order to get any kind of positive response from them. Judging by the nationalism so common in China today, I don’t think the US can hope for anything more than a lukewarm relationship.

  10. buddy up

    When China criticizes the West, some Westerners agree with the criticism. They can do so publicly and persistently if they wish. These people are often considered open minded – or at least partially credible and useful on some level.

    When the West criticizes China, some Chinese agree with the criticism, but they better keep their mouths shut or they’ll be in big trouble! They’ll be accused of being criminals and Western stooges.

  11. wwww

    Whereas what I say certainly does not represent a Chinese narrative, many of my fiends who had spent time overseas do share my view.
    In the US, one is bombarded by politics every minute, in the waiting room, bars and restaurants and at home. It is like a spam.
    But we know whatever it says, however rational/logical/reasonable it might be, it wont change much. (Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%
    To many foreigners, free political speech in the US is like opium for people, or perhaps that is precisely why it is tolerated or promoted!

    In China, speech and opinion matter, and that is why the premier goes online. Speech motivates an leads to deeds and consequently it has to be controlled. We don’t advertise for pork product in the TV during the Ramadan, just like Indians don’t discuss religion online or risk flaming murderous riots.

    Is the control too strict? I tend to think not, not in a multi-ethnic nation with over 70 millions including a large number of Muslims for whom loyalty to their mullah is more paramount, and when 0.0001% disgruntled out of 1.3 billion could cause a riot, when interests of various groups are evolving in a flux and not as yet harmonized. The extent of control would certainly loosen with time, when people eventually come to identify/accept their position in society, which after so many years of rocket speed change is currently beyond anyone’s recognition.

    Why do millions of drinks and liquid have to be discarded in the airport? As the machine cannot distinguish ordinary drinks from bomb building nitroglycerine. Why do millions have to take off their shoes and be searched, because one single idiot attempted to blow up the plane and we haven’t got better technology. Why now and not before? Different circumstances and thus different necessities and practices. So don’t lecture us with universal values lest we define it ourselves.

    The US has the highest incarceration rate in the whole world. When 1% of all jailable population(that is excluding under 18 and the senile of the whole nation) is in jail at all times, it takes a lot of convincing that your system is the land of the free in whichever regards.

    When the US has the lowest social mobility of all developed nations, the notion of the land of opportunity lost its entire luster. So whereas I take the idea of being introspective of all our shortcomings, don’t lecture me from a moral high ground. We stand on the shoulders of 5 thousand years of history with many splendid moments. Unlike the uncultured and insecure Ai weiwei, there are many of us that are confident of our own value system and our ability to model our society with pragmatism.

    Whereas the US is claiming a higher goal as justification for killing over 100000 Iraqis civilians and many others in its on-going wars, why cant china has lesser speech freedom with anticipation that more freedom would eventually ensue if present stability is maintained? Why is US social norm so exceptional that it overrides 6 billion others?

    Perhaps what you preach, uninhibited liberty and corporate media, is internally inconsistent with equality. Perhaps your electoral institution is more consistent with a media-finance complex which many societies might be angst to even look at.

    1. buddy up

      The USA criticizes China, and many of their criticisms are valid.

      China criticizes the USA, and many of their criticisms are valid.

      Both sides should try to learn and improve, not discount what the other one is saying because they are not perfect.

          1. buddy up

            I think you missed the main point of the article. Loss of the legitimacy to criticize is not about equivalency, it is about hypocrisy. If I was a pickpocket and you were a bank robber, how seriously would you take my admonitions to live the good life? That is the point.

    2. latinbass

      I suppose if this much control is necessary for an 8% minority (and some Muslims too, omg!) then America would be justified in applying censorship since it has a 28% minority. Nothing like equating free speech with drugs to prove a point, yes? Does America’s human rights abuses cancel out Chinas? No, let me peel away your nationalistic rhetoric. Your pride is wounded because you don’t like criticism.

  12. slim

    Anon nails this issue.

    Instead of relying on media accounts of the report, it may be instructive to have a look at the State Dept reports for various countries as well as the methodology, by which every country is measured against the same UN benchmarks.

    Iceland’s report for example is pretty thin, but it does say this: “Reported human rights problems included the incarceration of juveniles and adults and of pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners in the same cell, societal discrimination against minorities and foreigners, violence against women, and trafficking of persons to and through the country.”

    A critical but troubled ally like Afghanistan gets no breaks: “Human rights problems included extrajudicial killings; torture and other abuse; poor prison conditions; widespread official impunity; ineffective government investigations of abuses by local security forces; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged pretrial detention; judicial corruption; violations of privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of the press; limits on freedom of assembly; restrictions on freedom of religion, including on religious conversions; limits on freedom of movement; official corruption; violence and societal discrimination against women; sexual abuse of children; abuses against minorities; trafficking in persons; abuse of worker rights; and child labor.”

    China fattens its report with crackdowns on various groups and Internet curbs, to name just two areas. There were years when the report was thinner and many areas of progress were noted.

    Western media coverage of the Rights Report on China accentuate the harshest bits and media outlets find it hard to treat it properly within space constraints. The Xinhua narrative of an unpardonable conspiracy against China is flat out wrong. If you can find any real Chinese human rights lawyers (not the Potemkin ones they trot out for human rights dialogs or to quote in the Global Times) that are not locked up, ask them what they think of it.

    1. wwww

      when almost 1% of your population is locked up at any given time, when a minority family in a slump has no possibility of any upward mobility in 3 generations, it is collective human rights abuse at the extreme.

      1. Joyce Lau

        @ wwww — A smart but poor kid in America has way more chance of upward mobility than, say, a Chinese coal miner’s kid with no connections. As a kid of immigrants, I’ve seen people rise up from living in Chinatown with no English spoken at home to going to Ivy League schools on scholarship.

        But the point is not to veer off on all of America’s problems — like every nation, it’s got issues. The point is that this Chinese “counter-report” is laughable because it reads as being bitter, disingenuous and, ultimately, not intended to be helpful.

        @ buddy up — Just because two countries issue reports doesn’t mean they’re the same. The depth, quality and intention are totally different.

        The U.S. has been researching rights issues in every country in the world, from Myanmar to Mexico, for a long time. It also works closely with international bodies. Whereas China is just rousing up its domestic audience by finding bad news against its favorite foreign enemy.

        @ kai — China has proven time and again that it is way more defensive than any other major nation when criticized, whether at home or abroad.

  13. Joyce Lau

    BTW, I’m no fan of U.S. politics. I think it’s a far too violent nation, both domestically and overseas.

    But why are you guys bending over backwards to make an argument about “moral authority,” to defend what is clearly a shoddy Chinese report that will be dismissed as propaganda?

    Seen from my perspective here in Hong Kong — where the media openly criticize both the West and China — the whole thing is silly.