The China Challenge is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

August 7, 2008

The Beijing Olympics have put an intense spotlight on China’s remarkable economic and social progress as well as its continuing problems: social and ethnic unrest, pollution, human rights. China is not yet our friend, but it is not our enemy, either. We will have to deal with China as a major economic, political and military power and work together on issues of common concern. At the same time, we need a clear and consistent voice to respond to China when its actions conflict with our values and interests. Sometimes that voice will come from Americans themselves, like the athletes who chose a refugee from Darfur to carry the American flag in Beijing; but sometimes it must come from the government, for consumer protection or environmental standards, and sometimes it must come clearly from the President himself – ideally from a president whose own credibility on human rights and dignity has not been compromised in China’s eyes.

Human rights in China are been gaining more attention as President Bush heads to Beijing for the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony. “Human rights moved into the spotlight Wednesday as critics attacked China for banning Darfur activists, President Bush expressed ‘deep concerns’ about the government’s harsh policies and U.S. Olympians selected a former Sudanese refugee to carry the Stars and Stripes in Friday’s opening ceremony.” Thursday morning in Thailand, President Bush affirmed that “America stands in firm opposition” to China’s detention of political dissidents and religious activists. “We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights not to antagonize China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential,” Bush said. “And we press for openness and justice, not to impose our beliefs but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs.” [Washington Post, 8/7/08. LA Times, 8/7/08]

The United States must stand for human rights and democracy and hold China accountable. China infringes upon its citizens’ freedoms of speech, religion, and assembly. The Chinese government jails, tortures, and executes dissidents without affording them legal protections; censors the press and the internet; and is obsessive and paranoid about maintaining power and control. China’s record of human rights violations extends beyond their borders; they are also involved in the Sudan situation, “fueling the war” with arms deals and military training. From its seat on the U.N. Security Council, China has also blocked measures to resolve the Darfur genocide. [Amnesty International, 2007 Report; BBC News, 7/13/2008; Human Rights Watch, January 2005; New York Times, 7/12/2008]

However, the United States and China will have to deal with each other as two great powers – neither enemies nor friends – and work together on issues of common concern. As the two largest energy consumers in the world, the U.S. and China would benefit from a partnership aimed at solving global warming and reducing world dependence on oil, as well as the pollution that has sparked domestic and international protests around the Olympics. The United States should partner with China on sound energy policies and also do more on its own to reduce global warming. Also, China and the US are heavily invested in each other’s economies, and thus heavily invested in each other’s economic stability. The US accounts for over 20% of Chinese exports, roughly $321 billion dollars worth in 2007 according to US Census Bureau statistics. It is in the interest of both countries to continue to prosper from this valuable, cooperative interdependence. China has a critical role to play in stopping North Korea’s spread of deadly weapons and other Asian security issues. [Washington Post, 8/07/08; AP, 12/7/2007; New York Times, 7/10/2008; U.S. Census Bureau, 2007 Statistics; USCBC 2005 Member Survey]

What We’re Reading

Salim Ahmed Hamdan was acquitted of conspiring to commit terrorist attacks and convicted of the lesser charge of supporting terrorism; he still faces possible life in prison upon sentencing.

Iraq’s parliament adjourned without agreeing on a provincial election law, meaning that the elections will almost definitely be postponed until next year.

Pakistan’s ruling coalition has announced that it has agreed “in principle” to impeach President Pervez Musharraf; no Pakistani leader has been impeached before, and where the military comes down on this issue will be an important factor.

Following Iran’s rejection of an EU-led plan to hold talks and freeze its enrichment programs, the U.S. and Britain have led a push for more U.N. sanctions against Tehran. Russia has said that it does not agree with the sanctions, despite British claims that it does.

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army will announce its intention to disarm tomorrow and instead focus on education, religion, and social justice. It is unclear how effective the disarming process will be and whether the efforts are sincere.

Over 500 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan, following almost seven years of combat there. In June and July, more U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq.

Public outrage grows in Venezuela over President Hugo Chavez’s ongoing efforts to consolidate his power.

 

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