Sunday, May 16, 2010

The false equivalency of our discussions of human rights with China

Jay Nordlinger links to this story about how a U.S. envoy is sitting down to have meaningful talks with Chinese officials about human rights.
Posner said in addition to talks on freedom of religion and expression, labor rights and rule of law, officials also discussed Chinese complaints about problems with U.S. human rights, which have included crime, poverty, homelessness and racial discrimination.

He said U.S. officials did not whitewash the American record and in fact raised on its own a new immigration law in Arizona that requires police to ask about a person's immigration status if there is suspicion the person is in the country illegally.
Hmmm. Did the U.S. raise questions with the Chinese about how they treat illegal immigrants to China? Are they welcomed and given government welfare? Is there a human right to come to the U.S. by anyone who wants just as anyone, even a North Korean escaping from that nations starvation economy and labor camps, can move into China without being asked for papers? Please.

Here we have a U.S. official talking about poverty and racial discrimination with the Chinese as if our situation was equivalent to how they treat their minority groups like the Uighers or the Falun Gong. As Nordlinger writes,
I hope I have read that incorrectly, or am interpreting it incorrectly. Did we, the United States, talking to a government that maintains a gulag, that denies people their basic rights, that in all probability harvests organs, apologize for the new immigration law in Arizona? Really, really?

And that is to leave to one side, for the moment, the question of whether issues of crime, poverty, and so on truly belong in human-rights talks. You remember the old line, taught to us by our dear Marxist professors: “Here in the West, we have political rights: of expression, worship, assembly, etc. But you can’t eat those! In the East Bloc, they have economic and social rights: to food, shelter, health care, and the like.” Of course, free countries do better by material measures, too — better than those countries that have “economic and social rights.” Infinitely better.

A month ago, President Obama told the leader of Kazakhstan that we were still — you know: working on our democracy. An Obama national-security aide, Mike McFaul, said, “[Obama has] taken, I think, rather historic steps to improve our own democracy since coming to office here in the United States.” (For a write-up, go here.) “Historic steps”? I suppose he meant national health care, socialized medicine. I suppose, by “democracy,” he meant social democracy. Hard to tell. I don’t think he meant that the Justice Department was going to make the New Black Panthers stop intimidating voters.

Do you ever get the idea that our government is a bunch of left-wing undergraduates come to power?
Yup. This sounds quite a bit like discussions I would hear in college back in the 1970s where people would argue, "Yeah, the Soviet Union has it faults what with the gulags and political prisoners, but inner city blacks still have it tough, so we shouldn't criticize them." Do the Obamanians mean to find any sort of equivalencies between our costs and disagreements over health care and anything that is happening in Kazakhstan?
The State Department's own 2009 human rights report on Kazakhstan reported widespread human rights violations, including severe limits on citizens' rights to change their government; detainee and prisoner torture and other abuse; unhealthy prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of an independent judiciary; restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association; and pervasive corruption, especially in law enforcement and the judicial system.
But Obama can celebrate whatever it is that he thinks he's doing to take "rather historic steps to improve our own democracy since coming to office here in the United States" because that is how he likes to see himself. And I'm sure that President Nursultan Nazarbayev who has ruled Kazakhstan since 1991 would be happy to echo Obama's self-congratulatory tone on his own rule in his country.

Representatives from such countries as China and Kazakhstan must so enjoy meeting with officials from Obama's government when they can agree on the deficiencies of the United States. You have problems; we have problems; who doesn't have problems - let's take a picture and go home. Now that's a historic discussion of civil liberties and human rights that all can enjoy.