Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

China, the 2008 Olympics, and Human Rights

Posted by Chris on March 13, 2008

There were a lot of articles released in the world today on these topics and the interconnection of the three. I’d like to briefly summarize what’s going on (allegedly) and trace some an interesting thread I see running through the coverage.

We need to understand that this is a war being waged through the media. There are essentially two sides: China and everyone else. Everyone else includes all the major independent media outlets in the world, who, if they decide to pay attention and write anything, are going to speak negatively on China’s human rights record. China and Chinese media are one in the same. Thus, anything its media produces is certainly tied into the policy focus of its government. While the non-China media retains independence, governments have a lot of influence in their decision to release or retain information about the happenings in China as well as decisions to condemn failures or congratulate successes.

So, following this idea, I give you the first category of articles, accusations. Today alone brought news of Tibetan monks being beaten, arrested, and gassed during a peaceful protest for Tibetan independence. Also, I read and oft-repeated report of Olympic worker abuses, including being under-paid and unsafe working conditions.
Sources: #1 #2

Second category of articles: US government reaction. In this case, the US government actually did not encourage these reports; rather, it raised China’s human rights rating and left it off the list of the worst rights offenders.

The State Department did not wipe China’s slate clean, saying in the report that “China’s overall human rights record remains poor.” But instead of placing it among the world’s worst offenders, it shifted China’s listing to: “authoritarian countries that are undergoing economic reform [and] have experienced rapid social change but have not undertaken democratic political reform and continue to deny their citizens basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Other groups question the timing of the report, insisting that Chinese abuses are increasing due to Olympic preparations.
Source: #1

Now, ask yourself, with whom should China be most unhappy? Independent, global media, or the US government? Judging by its reaction, it blames the US irrespective of the source of greatest criticism. It may be incorrect in its assessment of the US government’s role in mud-slinging, but perception is reality. Our government, similar to China, has been using information to wage war against China. On one hand, I commend any effort to bring human rights abuses to light. On the other hand, you must understand that the US has alternative policy goals, that are perhaps understandable but less universal, such as the undermining of the Chinese (communist) government, an effort to remain the pre-eminent global economic power, and leverage against North Korea.

The last category of articles I read today show China fighting fire with fire. That is, it is using information to go on the offensive. Not only does it defend itself, but accuses others of politicizing the issue and discrimination. China accuses the US of hypocrisy, saying

“We humbly suggest that the U.S. desist from posing as a ‘defender of human rights’ and pay more attention to the United States’ own human rights record,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement issued by the official Xinhua news agency.
“Stop exercising double standards in human rights issues and wrongly meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.”(1)

It went so far as to issue a report titled “The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2007”. Among the US problems are a poverty rate of 12.5%, restriction of workers’ rights to unionize, frequent gun violence, and increasing numbers of homeless and hungry. It published these each in its own press release.
Sources: #1 #2 #3 #4 #5

The poverty rate of China certainly is higher. Workers’ rights pale in comparison. China is not trying to compare itself with the US, because it would certainly not measure up in these areas. If I may step in its shoes, I believe it is pointing out that considering the way we carry ourselves and our status as a first-world country, we Americans do have some issues. We have some really terrible outcomes in this fine nation, statistically speaking. I’m sure there are Americans, if you go to the right neighborhood, who would agree that we have no room to talk when it comes to violence, or poverty, or imprisonment rates.

Takeaways: understand the complexities of human rights dialogues; put media in the correct context of influence and affiliation; discern the true motives of a government action; come to a well-informed, reasonable opinion on this delicate issue.

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