America’s moralizing to China: Physician, heal thyself!

Thanks to the brilliant leadership of our boy president, America appears hopelessly hypocritical and stuck in a time warp when it attempts to criticize China over human rights, military spending and pollution. Now, I know there are some serious differences between America’s and China’s transgressions in these areas. However, under Bush these differences have become vaguer, and the similarities sharper. “No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

Which brings us to a great post over at one of my favorite blogs, by a former Iraq war supporter who like all former Iraq war supporters with an IQ above room temperature is now one of its most fervent critics. You all need to go over there and read his analysis of this article from the Financial Times as well as the comments to the post.

For the sake of posterity, I want to clip a sizable chunk of the article here. Please read it.

The militarisation of space is only the latest area in which an increasingly assertive China has taken advantage of the typical US approach to critical issues of global importance since the end of the cold war. The US is so protective of its sovereignty and complacent about its power that it often refuses to adhere to accepted international norms or contemplate an international regime that might constrain its room for manoeuvre.

There are at least three areas in which China is happy to ride on America’s coat-tails and the first is human rights. Until the US began detaining people without trial at Guantanamo Bay five years ago, it was possible for US politicians, without hypocrisy, to criticise Chinese Communist leaders for jailing their political opponents. The US could exert real influence on Chinese behaviour. Exchanges of presidential visits between the two countries were in those days preceded by the ritual release of Chinese dissidents into US care; today such visits are more likely to be marked by the ritual purchase of Boeing aircraft as part of China’s efforts to reduce the US trade deficit.

Chinese officials are not shy to point out Washington’s selective approach to human rights. They do not see why resource-hungry China should not support dictatorships in Burma and Zimbabwe if the US does the same in Pakistan, central Asia and west Africa. Nor is there any obvious reason why China should not use its United Nations Security Council veto to protect allies such as Sudan from sanctions when the US does the same for its proteges, including Israel.

The second issue is economic nationalism. China, along with several other Asian nations, is rightly accused of using dubious stratagems – including peculiar product standards and health and safety scares – to protect its domestic market from foreign competitors. Yet whenever this issue is raised, China has only to recall a two-year-old dispute that still rankles with Chinese officials: CNOOC, the state-controlled oil group, was stopped from buying Unocal, the US oil company, on spurious national security grounds.

Third is the environment. True, air pollution from China has been detected on the US side of the Pacific and Chinese industrialisation threatens the global environment. But why should China take action when the US, still the world’s biggest contributor to global warming, has refused to adopt the Kyoto protocol on climate change and has barely begun to take the matter seriously?

Notwithstanding Mr Bush’s call for lower US petrol consumption in his state of the nation address on Tuesday, fuel economy standards for new vehicles are more stringent in China than in the much wealthier US.

If China is to be held to account for its actions – whether in polluting the world, persecuting its dissidents, supporting dictators or disturbing the peace in space by blowing up satellites – the US must re-arm itself with credibility, moral conviction and a willingness to help craft and then submit to international law.

As long as this administration is breathing, expect no such improvements. Things are getting much worse, not better. Remember all the hope that the Iraq Study Group was going to give Bush the means by which he could extricate us from the Iraq trainwreck? Another pipedream; it’s full speed ahead into the valley of death, leaving in our wake a trail of torture and destruction and corruption. How can we lecture China?

The Discussion: One Comment

So true, yet so utterly depressing. While a state-sponsored bit of lecturing on human rights can needle some Chinese (and I admit it rankles me at times) it still is sometimes necessary, if only to remind the Chinese government that its internal structure and efficiency are as important in competing with other countries as its external strength.

The trick is separating the criticism from the sometimes cynical self-interest that underlies it. This requires sociopolitical rapport and deep understanding (such as the sort between the U.S. and France, Britain, or Germany) between not only two governments, but two peoples as well. And unfortunately, I don’t see that happening on either side of the Pacific.

February 4, 2007 @ 5:10 pm | Comment

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