A Call for Attention to Chinese Repression

At The Nation, Rian Thum and Jeffrey Wasserstrom write that people in the West "should pay more attention to Beijing’s repressive actions" such as its treatment of the late Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and his wife, Liu Xia, its construction of re-education camps in Xinjiang, its erosion of freedom in Hong Kong, and its constriction of space for dissent or even mere disrespect.

Paying attention to events in China, even as other world news clamors for attention, is important in part because of Beijing’s newfound economic clout and global power. Xi feels the country’s global position is strong enough that Beijing runs little risk when it scoffs at international-court decisions, as it has when building military bases in the , or interns hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs without due process in a manner that meets the definition of a crime against humanity.

Rather than resisting this culture of impunity, the has been helping bolster it. Despite worsening human-rights violations in China, influential Americans from the president to the CEOs of and have been praising Xi’s policies and showing him more deference than they did his predecessors. The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council [background] only validates Beijing’s tendency to flout international norms, as we saw this month when it attempted to gut funding for the UN’s humanitarian programs.

Weaker states and leaders of smaller economies would face grave international consequences for these kinds of actions. But China, much like the United States, now has the power to ignore global opinion and its own legal commitments. This is even easier to do when a distracted world isn’t watching. [Source]

NYU legal scholar Jerome Cohen recommended the essay on his blog, writing that it deserves "the widest attention":

With respect to China’s continuing atrocities, it is time to consider how to heighten the awareness and willingness to protest of the foreign governments and businesses that interact with Beijing. Much greater pressure has to be applied to the national politicians who influence the actions of their governments. Social protests and boycotts against the multinational corporations that court the PRC and yield to its demands may be necessary to get their attention. Popular condemnations even at athletic events may be desirable. Of course, it behooves the United States Government and the American people to cure our own human rights abuses. “Do as I say, not as I do” is never an attractive or effective posture. [Source]

Like Wasserstrom and Thum, Cohen highlighted the plight of in particular, both in that blog post and again on Twitter, noting the concern expressed this week by a group U.N. rights experts:

From the U.N. experts’ statement for Liu on Wednesday:

“We are disturbed by reports of the deteriorating health of Liu Xia. She is reportedly physically restricted at an unknown location and suffers from severe psychological distress,” the experts said, referring to several recent audio recordings that were released in May in which she pleads for help.

“We understand her condition has been aggravated by the restrictions placed on her movements, and contact with outsiders, for over seven years, while she has not been accused of any criminal activity, nor charged with any criminal offence.”

[…] The UN experts urged that immediate and unfettered access be granted to her and that she be freely allowed to seek medical and psychological treatment where ever she wishes to, including outside China.

“We reiterate our call to the Chinese Government to disclose her whereabouts and release her,” said the experts. “If Ms. Liu is free as she is said to be by the authorities, she should be allowed to peacefully to exercise her right to freedom of expression and movement.” [Source]