Conflict & Justice

China tells US to butt out after criticism of human rights conditions


July 1, 2013- US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) shakes hands with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the ASEAN meeting at the International Conference Center in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei.


Jacquelyn Martin

A fit of diplomatic finger-pointing has ensued since last week’s US-China Human Rights Dialogue “fell short of Washington’s expectations,” amid swelling international discontent surrounding recent revelations of US surveillance and responses to whistleblowers.

Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Uzra Zeya following the meeting expressed concern about a “deteriorating human rights situation” in China, citing increasing targeting of activists’ relatives for punishment by the Chinese government.

“This is a worrisome trend, and one which we have raised at senior levels with the Chinese government,” Zeya said, after leading the US delegation at the July 30-31 talks in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming.

Zeya and US diplomats questioned China about specific individual cases, like the families and associates of such high-profile dissidents as blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who is responsible for exposing abuses in the enforcement of China’s one-child policies, and Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiabo, who has been detained since 2009 on subversion charges for campaigning “for peaceful democratic change in China.”

But the world’s oldest communist country is not cowering under America's wagging finger.

China’s Foreign Ministry released a statement late Friday in response to Uzra Zeya’s comments, rejecting US criticism of a pattern of arrests and extralegal detentions of public interest lawyers, Internet activists, journalists, religious leaders and others, saying that China’s human rights situation is “at a historic best,” and that “Washington is biased against China and distorts the situation.”

The ministry went on to say that “the Chinese are enjoying unprecedented rights” which “must be exercised within China’s law,” and that the US needs to stay out of its business.

“China opposes US intervention of Chinese judicial system through individual cases and wishes the US would respect China’s judicial sovereignty and stop its practice of badgering with individual cases,” the Foreign Ministry said.

The request for respect of judicial sovereignty and an end to the interference therein should not sound foreign to the US, right or wrong, as US-Russia relations have considerably deteriorated over the Federation’s grant of temporary asylum to American NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Despite weeks of White House requests for Russia to return Snowden—who traveled to Russia from China after using the Republic as a post-leak hide out—to US custody for prosecution, President Obama’s “vow to eradicate the situation,” and threats of stalling meetings until the situation has been effectively eradicated, the two countries’ fickle relations ultimately hindered the US’s attempts to end the controversy.

Some experts are now saying that US-Russian relations are at their lowest point in decades.

This setback follows the US’s own domestic blow to information leakers in the form of Bradley Manning’s military court conviction last month for espionage and impending sentencing, which could imprison the 25 year old former Army soldier for 90 years, under the pretense that his leaks jeopardized national security.

Never mind that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote to Senator Carl Levin about the leaks in 2010 saying, “the review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by this disclosure.”

Manning was arrested in 2010 for passing on classified war information to WikiLeaks. He most contentiously revealed a helicopter video that recorded a 2007 attack on and slaughter of a dozen Baghdad civilians and two Reuters reporters, meant to “spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as it relates to Iraq and Afghanistan.” His conviction has come after three years of “cruel detainment.”

Like some of China’s prosecuted outspoken dissidents, Manning and Snowden have both operated with the motivation of “sparking debate,” or inciting change—perhaps even “peaceful democratic change”—in the US.

It is becoming clearer that the US, like China, does not respond positively to its challengers. In fact, as we pressure China to release criminally detained prisoners, Julian Assange—the man behind WikiLeaks—continues to live under political asylum inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, unable to leave for fear of extradition to the US for prosecution. Internationally, the US continues to operate the Guantanamo Bay detention camp—illegally holding some prisoners indefinitely, without proper charges or trial.

While American diplomats condemn China’s restrictive grip on Internet censorship, Google continues to release periodic reports that show increasing requests by the US government to censor certain information available to the American public.

This comes along with recent revelations, thanks to Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been spying and collecting data on its own citizens—and other countries’ citizens.

Snowden also confirmed China’s suspicions of being hacked. While Washington spent the year criticizing China for breaching some American media companies’ security systems and causing technological crashes, the US was secretly hacking the security system for Beijing’s Tsinghua University—the world’s largest national research hub, which holds Internet data from millions of Chinese citizens—as well as its citizens’ mobile phones.

So while Uzra Zeya calling China on its (major) human rights issues seems well-founded, so does the statement of the information office of China’s State Council, which declared, “a real human rights dialogue should be based on mutual trust and respect, and only such human rights dialogues would be meaningful and effective.”

At this stage it appears such a relationship does not exist.