Time to ‘interfere’ / Stop ignoring rights in China (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) By JOHN BOLTON 05/01/12)
NEW YORK POST
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As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to China this week for
yearly strategic consultations, a daring bid for political asylum has
highlighted the seething dissent beneath China’s surface stability.
The dramatic news that dissident Chen Guangcheng escaped from house
arrest and traveled clandestinely to seek refuge in America’s Beijing
embassy is still rocking China. Chen’s journey captured worldwide
media attention; his fate could have profound implications for
China’s future domestically and for Sino-American affairs, this
century’s most important bilateral relationship.
Chen opposes China’s notorious “one child per family” policy; he
infuriated the country’s rulers by filing class actions on behalf of
women involuntarily sterilized or forced to have abortions under
the “one child” strictures.
President Obama’s response to Chen will set a tone in US-Chinese
relations that could reverberate for years.
To date, his administration’s indifference to Beijing’s oppressive
policies, as well as to (among other things) China’s implicit support
for North Korean and Iranian nuclear proliferation, has simply
encouraged Beijing’s belief that Washington would allow it a free
In February 2009, on her first visit to China as secretary, Clinton
was dismissive about Tibet, religious freedom and other human-rights
issues: “We know what they are going to say, because I’ve had those
kinds of conversations for more than a decade with Chinese leaders.
We have to continue to press them. But our pressing on those issues
can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate-
change crisis and the security crisis.”
The Washington Post described her as “affect[ing] a world-weary air”;
Clinton herself said she was merely “stating the obvious.” Chinese
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi responded that China was willing to
discuss “human rights” on the “premise of mutual respect and
noninterference in each other’s internal affairs.”
“Noninterference” will be essentially impossible for America if Chen
formally applies for political asylum while inside our Beijing
The cold, hard, inconvenient truth in international affairs is that
human rights at times will be traded off for higher national
interests. However unattractive it is to acknowledge that reality, it
is certainly far better than simply giving the issue away, as Clinton
did in 2009.
Meanwhile, the other big China story of recent months is challenging
the received wisdom in US governmental and business circles that
China is experiencing a “peaceful rise,” becoming a “responsible
stakeholder” internationally. The apparent purge of Bo Xilai, former
Communist Party supremo in Chongqing, also demonstrates major fault
lines in China’s political structures.
This bizarre tale has already included Bo’s local police chief
fleeing to the US consulate before being released into the custody of
Beijing authorities and allegations of Bo’s wife’s involvement in
murdering a British businessman.
Some characterize Bo as a Maoist throwback maneuvering unsuccessfully
against the “reformers” now dominating the party’s higher ranks.
Others see the affair as a classic power struggle among personally
ambitious Communist leaders, with less ideological significance.
Either way, Bo’s real crime, in the regime’s eyes, was plainly his
seeking of popular support outside the existing leadership structures.
However this ongoing intraparty contest turns out, the undeniable
open warfare underlines that China’s internal political direction is
far less certain than the apostles of “peaceful rise” would have us
Indeed, the last several decades of our feckless acquiescence to
Beijing’s growing economic clout have made the situation worse. Fears
among US business and political elites that standing up for US
interests would only rile China and worsen relations to our detriment
have simply empowered the most aggressive and authoritarian instincts
of an already aggressive and authoritarian Communist and military
Chen’s asylum case will almost certainly affect the outcome of the
political struggles exemplified by Bo Xilai’s fall.
While America may be unable to exert a decisive influence either on
China’s future domestic affairs or its external behavior, we should
not be ambiguous here. We should grant Chen asylum, insist that his
family in China be protected, speak out against the “one child”
policy and much, much more.
America must not be a well-bred doormat on Chen’s asylum request or
on any other bilateral issue with China. John Bolton is a former US
ambassador to the United Nations. (Copyright 2012 NYP Holdings, Inc.
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