Broken Promises

During his 2000 presidential campaign, George Bush said he’d take China to task over its human rights record, but Joshua Kurlantzick writes in The New Republic that the president’s China policy today is the exact opposite of what he promised it would be eight years ago:

… in recent years, without the U.S. raising an objection, over 4,000 Uighurs have been executed by the Chinese, frequently without due process. “China has opportunistically used the post-September 11 environment to make the outrageous claim that individuals disseminating peaceful religious and cultural messages in Xinjiang [where most Uighurs live] are terrorists who have simply changed tactics,” Human Rights Watch found in an extensive 2005 report on the Uighurs. Despite explicit concerns raised by the State Department about the situation, the White House has twice declined to sponsor U.N. resolutions condemning Chinese human rights abuses–an abrupt shift from previous U.S. policy: The Clinton administration had backed similar U.N. resolutions nearly every year in office.

Bush also paid little attention to human rights on his trip to China in 2005; he didn’t once mention jailed Chinese activists. Again, this was a departure from the norm: Senior U.S. officials with the Reagan administration made a habit of visiting with Russian dissidents on trips to Moscow, and President Clinton was quite successful in highlighting individual dissidents in China, eventually getting many of them released. As one top former Clinton advisor told me, the president and Madeleine Albright repeatedly pressed then-president Jiang Zemin to loosen restrictions in Tibet and engage in a dialogue with Dalai Lama.

Bush’s record has only gotten worse since then. Last year, in an interview with Chinese television, Bush did not mention human rights in China as one of his priorities. And on his most recent meeting with Hu, in 2007, Bush even lavished praise on the Chinese leader just for using the words “democracy” and “rights” in public–even though nearly every human rights organization, from Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch, agrees that repression continues to get worse under Hu.

Then, on a point of huge international concern–and to the delight of Chinese leaders–Bush has promised to attend the 2008 Beijing Olympics just as a “sports fan,” though that is essentially impossible for the American president. As it stands now, there will be no speeches about China’s behavior in advance of the Games, no meetings with dissidents or any other activists or religious figures–just silence.


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