Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 2002 / 17 Shevat, 5762
Life under Taliban rule? No. Life under Chinese rule.
China, trying to burnish its human rights image before President Bush's Beijing visit next month, recently released one of its better known dissidents, former Vermont college professor Ngawang Choephel. He had served 6 years in prison for the big crime of filming traditional music and dance in Tibet (spying, China charged).
China's pre-summit attempts to showcase a kinder, gentler regime also included downplaying a recent flap over reports that listening devices were hidden in its new presidential aircraft, a U.S.-built Boeing 767. "China is a peace-loving country which constitutes no threat to anyone else, it is unnecessary to carry out wiretaps against China," a spokesman remarked.
Tell that to Taiwan or Tibet, or to the Hong Kong man sentenced Monday to two years in prison for importing Bibles into China.
"Few assumed the human rights situation in China would immediately improve after approval of Permanent Normal Trade Relations. But instead, conditions have worsened," Michael Young, of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, wrote Bush recently. In December, Young said, China used its 1999 "evil cult" law to sentence a Protestant Christian pastor to death and impose sentences of two years to life on 15 other South China Church leaders.
With its winning bid to host the Olympics and its new World Trade Organization membership, China has been on something of a roll. The war against terrorism has kept the spotlight on the Taliban's horrific acts and off China's horrific acts. That helps both China, which wants more western economic cooperation, and U.S. firms that want to make money in China without answering awkward questions about its human rights record.
China's 2001 human rights record was abysmal, especially its treatment of spiritual or religious movements, says Human Rights Watch. It imprisoned thousands of Falun Gong spiritual group practitioners and "used torture and psychological pressure to force recantations," the group reports.
Along with a crackdown of Buddhist and Taoist groups, hundreds of underground Protestant and Catholic churches were closed. And China's one-child policy continues to be enforced with brutal abortions. But because China does not recognize free-press rights, these and other horrors largely go unreported by the Western media.
Although the Bush administration has been smart about what China is up to on some fronts (it has twice sanctioned Chinese firms for hawking weapons of mass destruction), balancing U.S. economic interests against human rights isn't easy. Since Sept. 11, the administration's pro-engagement wing, Secretary of State Colin Powell and ambassador to China Clark Randt, have drowned out the skeptics, citing China's show of support in the Bush anti-terror campaign.
Evidence of Bush's evolving China stance came Jan. 2, when he approved liberalizing supercomputer export controls. Unless Congress reverses this, U.S. firms eager to expand their markets will sell China powerful technology its military needs to modernize its weapons.
Throughout his presidency, Bush will have to grapple with tough questions: How much will U.S. business concerns affect our relationship with China? Will we muffle our criticism of China's internal policies if that creates jobs here?
A reminder: U.S. businesses once justified their dealings with the South African apartheid regime by pointing to balance sheets. And the British, concerned about domestic corporate profits, initially wanted to get along with the Nazis.
The summit gives Bush a tremendous chance to reorient our relationship with China. While in Beijing, he must speak out forcefully against torture, religious persecution and censorship - regardless of where they are carried out.
Which is more important-free trade or free people? We know China's
"official" answer. What is your answer, Mr.
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