President Obama and Governor Palin on China’s Human Rights Abuses

Yesterday, President Obama hosted Chinese President Hu (or as the White House website stated, “President Chu”) for a state dinner. Earlier in the day, the two leaders met and held a joint press conference. During the press conference, China’s human rights abuses became the focus of discussion. CNS News reports:

“And I want to suggest that there has been an evolution in China over the last 30 years since the first normalization of relations between the United States and China,” Obama said. “And my expectation is that 30 years from now we will have seen further evolution and further change.”

Obama did not specify any specific areas where he believed China has progressed in expanding freedom for its people.

While President Obama states that he has been “very candid” with President Hu about China’s human rights’ abuses in private, his public remarks about China’s human rights abuses were non-substantive and non-specific:

“China has a different political system than we do,” Obama said. “China is at a different stage of development than we are. We come from very different cultures with very different histories. But, as I’ve said before and I repeated to President Hu, we have some core views as Americans 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.”

Additionally, while he states that there has been “evolution” in how China handles human rights, his own state department reports evidence to the contrary. The most recent U.S. State Department report released last spring says in part (emphasis mine):

The government’s human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas. During the year the government increased the severe cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR).Tibetan areas remained under tight government controls. The detention and harassment of human rights activists increased, and public interest lawyers and law firms that took on cases deemed sensitive by the government faced harassment, disbarment and closure. The government limited freedom of speech and controlled the Internet and Internet access. Abuses peaked around high-profile events, such as the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising, the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

While President Obama has chosen to not speak out strongly against China’s human rights abuses, Governor Palin has been bold in her defense of the abused and persecuted in China. Even speaking in the Chinese region of Hong Kong in August of 2009, Governor Palin was bold, yet diplomatic in her criticism of the action of the Chinese government (emphasis mine):

Think about it. How many books and articles have been written about the dangers of India’s rise? Almost as large as China – and soon to be more populous – virtually no one worries about the security implications of India becoming a great power – just as a century ago the then-preeminent power, Great Britain, worried little about the rise of America to great power status. My point is that the more politically open and just China is, the more Chinese citizens of every ethnicity will settle disputes in courts rather than on the streets. The more open it is, the less we will be concerned about its military build-up and intentions. The more transparent China is, the more likely it is they we will find a true and lasting friendship based on shared values as well as interests.

I am not talking about some U.S.-led “democracy crusade.” We cannot impose our values on other counties. Nor should we seek to. But the ideas of freedom, liberty and respect for human rights are not U.S. ideas, they are much more than that. They are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many other international covenants and treaties. They apply to citizens in Shanghai as much as they do to citizens in Johannesburg or Jakarta. And demands for liberty in China are Chinese, not American, demands. Just last year, many brave Chinese signed Charter 08, a Chinese document modeled on the great Czech statesman Vlacav Havel’s Charter 77. Charter 08 would not be unfamiliar to our Founding Fathers and was endorsed by Havel himself. No, we need not convince the Chinese people that they have inalienable rights. They are calling for those rights themselves. But we do have to worry about a China where the government suppresses the liberties its people hold dear.

While both President Obama and Governor Palin recognize the universality of freedom, Governor Palin is the one who is willing to call out the suppression of the Chinese government, even while in China. President Obama, on the other hand, couched his language as to be conciliatory to a government who Governor Palin would later point out engages in ” population controls (including forced abortions), censorship, and arbitrary detentions?” This current passive acceptance of China’s actions is further supported by assertive action as well. During this past summer, Governor Palin had strong criticism for the Obama administration actively seeking to China’s approval in the federal government’s opposition to Arizona’s border security laws:

The absolute low point of this campaign came last Friday, when a U.S. State Department delegation met with Chinese negotiators to discuss human rights. Apparently, our State Department felt it necessary to make their Chinese guests feel less bad about their own record of human rights abuses by repeatedly atoning for American “sins” – including, it seems, the Arizona immigration/pro-border security law. Asked if Arizona came up at all during the meeting, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner answered:

“We brought it up early and often. It was mentioned in the first session, and as a troubling trend in our society and an indication that we have to deal with issues of discrimination or potential discrimination, and that these are issues very much being debated in our own society.”

Note that he said “We brought it up” – not the Chinese, but the U.S. State Department’s own delegation. Instead of grilling the Chinese about their appalling record on human rights, the State Department continued the unbelievable apology tour by raising “early and often” Arizona’s decision to secure our border.

Governor Palin pointedly highlighted the horrible, hypocritical actions of the Obama administration. Not only did the Obama administration’s State Department not appropriately address China’s human rights’ abuse, they also willingly insulted one of their own states for defending its border and accused them of being discriminatory. Governor Palin goes on to say:

Arizona’s law, which just mirrors the federal law, simply allows the police to ask those whom they have already stopped for some form of identification like a driver’s license. By what absurd stretch of the imagination is that the moral equivalent of China’s lack of freedoms, population controls (including forced abortions), censorship, and arbitrary detentions?

There is no comparison between the human rights violations in China and the language of the Arizona border security bill that originally allowed police to ask for identification if an individual had already been stopped for other reasons. Governor Palin was right to point out yet another stop on President Obama’s perpetual apology tour. She was also right to diplomatically address China’s human rights abuses. President Obama has chosen to engage in hollow rhetoric rather than diplomatic criticism. So yet another contrast between President Obama and Governor Palin is further revealed. America is a superpower (yes, whether the President likes it or not), and with that, the President has the opportunity to encourage and challenge other nations to treat their citizens with respect and to allow them to maintain their inalienable right of liberty. As Governor Palin said this is not a “U.S. led democracy crusade” or imposing American values, it is simply encouraging the spread of freedom. President Obama would do well to emulate Governor Palin’s message.

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