Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hu’s Visit to the USA – It’s Economics, Stupid!

China's human rights record is bad with abuses ranging from censorship to illegal detention of dissidents to executions without due process. Its treatment of ethnic minorities, especially the Uyghur Muslims, is simply horrendous and has no parallel inside China. In July 2009, China’s oil-rich and ethnically sensitive far-western province of Xinjiang experienced violence between the indigenous Uyghurs and the settler Han Chinese in the provincial capital, Urumqi. This resulted in the death of more than 100 people and injury of some 800 individuals, mostly Uyghurs in both counts. The disturbances occurred after a year of rising tensions between the dominant Han Chinese authorities and the Uyghur ethnic minority - the historical ethnic majority in Xinjiang - that have been socially, politically and economically marginalized by Beijing's policies that introduce Chinesization of the region. China’s heavy handed policy of repression inside Tibet has also drawn much condemnation from outside.

But none of these matters of grave concern has put a dent in bilateral economic relationship that China enjoys with the western world, especially the USA. Much to the credit of the late President Nixon’s ground-breaking Ping Pong Diplomacy, the relationship has only become stronger with time. China remains one of the largest trading partners of the USA. There is hardly a major U.S. corporation that does not have a business outlet today in places like Shanghai and Beijing. While millions of jobs have been lost inside the American soil because of outsourcing of those job functions to China, the official U.S. records show that its exports to China are growing nearly twice as fast as its exports to the rest of the world.

According to the Obama administration, the U.S.A. is exporting more than $100 billion a year in goods and services to China, which supports more than half a million American jobs. According to the Chinese official record, some 3 million people travel between the USA and China every year. In other words, on every single day, approximately 7,000 to 8,000 people travel between the two countries. Nevertheless, the widening trade gap between the two countries and the loss of jobs inside the U.S. soil has not softened the attitude of many American politicians towards China.

Last week, President Hu Jintao of China visited the USA and held a joint press conference with President Barack Obama in the East Room of the White House. In a packed news conference President Obama was asked how the United States could keep good relations with a country with such a horrible record on human rights, and whether he had any confidence that as a result of this visit that would change.
In his reply Mr. Obama said the two leaders had talked about the issue a number of times and that he had made it clear to President Hu that Americans have some core views “about the universality of certain rights -- freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly -- that we think are very important and that transcend cultures. I have been very candid with President Hu about these issues. Occasionally, they are a source of tension between our two governments.”

When President Hu was pressed to defend his country's treatment of its people he initially did not answer, saying he never heard the question translated. When prodded a second time, Mr. Hu defended his country's promotion of human rights. He said, “China is always committed to the protection and promotion of human rights. And in the course of human rights, China has also made enormous progress, recognized widely in the world. China recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights. And at the same time, we do believe that we also need to take into account the different and national circumstances when it comes to the universal value of human rights. China is a developing country with a huge population, and also a developing country in a crucial stage of reform. In this context, China still faces many challenges in economic and social development. And a lot still needs to be done in China, in terms of human rights.” He continued, “We will continue our efforts to improve the lives of the Chinese people, and we will continue our efforts to promote democracy and the rule of law in our country. At the same time, we are also willing to continue to have exchanges and dialogue with other countries in terms of human rights, and we are also willing to learn from each other in terms of the good practices. As President Obama rightly put it just now, though there are disagreements between China and the United States on the issue of human rights, China is willing to engage in dialogue and exchanges with the United States on the basis of mutual respect and the principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. In this way, we’ll be able to further increase our mutual understanding, reduce our disagreements, and expand our common ground.”

And as expected, with such a diplomatic response from Mr. Hu, the matter of grievous human rights violations inside China was shelved. No questions were asked about Liu Xiaobo - the Nobel Peace Prize winner (2010), who is in the second year of an 11-year prison sentence for ‘subversion’. (Beijing has denounced the award as "a desecration" and maintained that the honor should have gone to someone focused on promoting international friendship and disarmament.)

Interestingly, Mr. Hu’s visit to the U.S.A. this year coincided with President Obama’s end of the second year in office. All those presidential promises made two years ago about closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, which continues to hold hundreds of Muslim prisoners (mostly innocent victims who still remain uncharged of any crime after ten years) under gross inhuman conditions, are now conveniently forgotten. Mr. Obama’s promises about making our world less war-prone and more peaceful are also seemingly lost from his agenda. His administration has not only failed to stop Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s settlement policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories but has actually rewarded Israel more handsomely than ever before in spite of its repeated violations of international laws.

More disturbingly, the Obama administration has engaged in covert war against Iran. The fingerprint of the CIA-Mossad collaboration in the targeted assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists Majid Shahriari and Ferrydoun Abbasi Davani on the morning rush-hours of November 29, 2010 is all too visible for everyone to see. Reportedly there has also been a computer virus attack (Stuxnet) to cripple Iran’s nuclear program. As noted by the Newsweek, rarely has a covert war been so obvious.

Will the next two years be any better? Probably not, when it comes to international affairs! America’s foreign policy is increasingly showing the obvious signs of being manipulated by the military industrial complex, forewarned half a century ago by the outgoing president Eisenhower. As alleged last week in a speech by the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh at the Doha campus of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar that key branches of the U.S. military are being led by Christian fundamentalist ‘crusaders’ who are determined to ‘turn mosques into cathedrals.’ This crusading attitude "pervades" a large portion of the Joint Special Operations Command, which is part of the military's Special Forces branch.

On the domestic front, employment or job security and healthcare will continue to dominate the public agenda. Here, the future may look brighter. Although the American economy is still weak, less people are now unemployed compared to the last two years of George W. Bush’s presidency. Mr. Obama’s favorable rating has also become better. In a Rasmussen poll taken last Saturday, overall, 50% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the president Obama's performance; forty-eight percent (48%) disapprove. This is the first time in a month that the president’s overall rating has reached 50%. The Gallup daily poll also confirms the latest trend in approval rating for the president.

So, during the joint press conference with Mr. Hu, Mr. Obama could grin while mentioning that China has completed dozens of deals that would increase U.S. exports by more than $45 billion and also increase China’s investment in the United States by several billion dollars. Mr. Obama said, “From machinery to software, from aviation to agriculture, these deals will support some 235,000 American jobs. And that includes many manufacturing jobs. So this is great news for America’s workers.”

These trade deals speak voluminously about the world we live in, as hypocritically scripted by our world leaders. Long gone are the days of ideology and human rights! It is economics, stupid! And not human rights that matters!

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