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Jewish World Review March 1, 2001 / 6 Adar, 5761

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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Consumer Reports

Engagement's unseeing eye -- THE most important foreign policy and national security issue of these times is the question of China, and for the past seven years that question has revolved around one simple argument.

On the one hand, the Clinton administration, the Republican Party's money wing (which is to say the wing that matters), most of the foreign policy establishment and virtually all of corporate America have argued that a policy of "engaging" China was not only good for business but also good for democracy. Treating the benighted old despots of Beijing as if they were progressing nicely toward enlightened rule would lead, it was repeatedly explained, to actual enlightenment; the embrace of Western capitalism must inevitably occasion the embrace of Western values. On the other hand, a few critics said: nuts.

The argument ended this week: the nuts-sayers were right. If engagement ever was more than a cynical tool in the service of American corporate profit-seeking, it must be judged a failure. This is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the dry, grim findings of the State Department's annual review of human rights around the world, released Monday.

"The People's Republic of China is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party is the paramount source of power," the section on China begins with admirable clarity. "Leaders stress the need to maintain stability and social order and are committed to perpetuating the rule of the CCP and its hierarchy. Citizens lack both the freedom peacefully to express organized opposition to the Party-led political system and the right to change their national leaders or form of government."

After seven years of engagement, what have China's rulers learned? As the State Department report makes clear, they have learned an enlightened way of employing the jackboot and the blackjack and the gulag, combining a relaxed attitude toward individual behavior that does not threaten their grasp of power with ever more ruthlessness in grinding down anyone or anything that does so threaten.

So, "most average citizens went about their daily lives without significant interference from the government, enjoying looser economic controls, increased access to outside sources of information, greater room for individual choice, and more diversity in cultural life." But not if they dared use their longer leashes in pursuit of true freedom: "The authorities were quick to suppress any person or group, whether religious, political, or social, that they perceived to be a threat to government power or to national stability, and citizens who sought to openly express dissenting political and religious views continued to live in an environment filled with repression."

In every way that matters, the report found, the Chinese government's behavior regarding any perceived threat to its power has significantly worsened under engagement's carefully unseeing eye. This was especially so in the government's handling of religious and spiritual movements, perhaps most notably in the case of the movement called Falun Gong. "The government significantly intensified its campaign against the Falun Gong movement . . . as well as against 'cults' in general." In the past year, the report declared, "thousands of unregistered religious institutions had been either closed or destroyed, hundreds of Falun Gong leaders had been imprisoned, and thousands of Falun Gong practitioners remained in detention or were sentenced to re-education-through-labor camps or incarcerated in mental institutions. . . . Approximately 100 or more Falun Gong practitioners died as a result of torture and mistreatment in custody."

And there's more progress to report: "The government continued to commit widespread and well-documented human rights abuses. . . . Abuses included instances of extrajudicial killings, the use of torture, forced confessions, arbitrary arrest and detention, the mistreatment of prisoners, lengthy incommunicado detention and denial of due process. . . . The government maintained tight restrictions on freedom of speech and of the press and increased its efforts to control the Internet. . . . The government severely restricted freedom of assembly. . . . During the year, the government also used laws against subversion and endangering state security to threaten, arrest and imprison a wide range of political dissidents and activists."

And on it goes. There is not a great deal the United States can do about a lot of this. But before the Clinton administration decided China was our "strategic partner," we at least didn't lie about the reality of the People's Republic, or at least didn't lie so baldly and insistently. And not lying did some good -- it helped keep the pressure on Beijing, it helped save lives and spring democrats from jail cells. It is no doubt too much to expect a Republican administration to put human rights ahead of corporate interests. But it is not too much to demand at least a return to not lying. And it would do some good.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


02/22/01:The Pardoner's false brief
02/08/01: Oops, they almost converted
02/01/01: Exit the abusers
01/25/01: The monster and the minority
01/11/01: Master money-grubber
01/11/01: Re Bipartisanship: From: The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy To: The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
01/04/01: Faux Commotion
12/21/00: The next Martha Stewart
12/14/00: Democracy rescued
12/06/00: Gore's next task: Face reality
11/15/00: The Great Defender
11/02/00: The Democrats' delusion
10/26/00: Phony Truce
10/19/00: The Talking Cure
10/12/00: Doves' Day of Reckoning
10/05/00: Conan the veep
09/28/00: Dumb vs. Dishonest
09/21/00: Flapping furiously
09/14/00: Down AlGore's Memory Hole
08/24/00: AlGore's Flex-O-Joe
08/17/00: The Joyful Clinton Nation
08/09/00: A Calculated Risk
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05/04/00: Some Closing Thoughts
04/28/00: Endangering Elian
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04/05/00: Census and nonesense
03/29/00: The Stiffs and Their Statuettes
03/15/00: Anarchy in Kosovo
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03/01/00:The Pinhead Factor
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02/24/00: McCain's Majority
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02/09/00: The GOP Pilgrims' Sad Tale
02/02/00: Fodder For the GOP
01/26/00: Million-Dollar Mediocrity
01/19/00: Campaign Reform: Let's Pretend
01/12/00: Never Again? Oh, Never Mind
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12/01/99: Not Ready for Prime Time?
11/24/99: The Company He Keeps
11/17/99: Republican Illusion
11/10/99: The Know-Nothing Media
11/03/99: Necessary Partisanship
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
07/15/99: Blame Hillary
07/08/99: Guide to the Arts: For Your Summer Reading . . .
06/30/99: A Perfectly Clintonian Doctrine
06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
06/16/99: A National Calamity
06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
05/06/99: Four Revolting Spectacles

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