03/13/2008, 00.00
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United States and China: two-sided weakness over human rights

by Bernardo Cervellera
The report on human rights from the U.S. State Department has become more lenient toward China. And yet the list of violations against human rights shows the same violations taking place in Burma. Among the many reasons for this change of course: the Olympics, and above all the U.S. financial crisis.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Everyone is disappointed with the report from the U.S. State Department on human rights in China.

In its annual publication, the United States "rewarded" the People's Republic by removing it from the list of the worst violators of rights, while emphasising that it remains "an authoritarian state" that respects human rights in a very "poor" fashion.

Above all, the report was not pleasing to Beijing, which yesterday launched verbal attacks against "the enemies of China" that are using the Olympics as an opportunity to increase their criticisms and "politicise" the games. Qin Gang, spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, also suggested that the United States should "stop posing as a defender of human rights", look at its scant defence of human rights in its own country, and "not meddle in the domestic affairs of other countries".

The report was also less than pleasing for all of the organisations that work for human rights, and also for us at AsiaNews.  Or better: we did not like the conclusion.  The long dossier on China reports the many violations that we ourselves document on the pages of our web site: surveillance, arrests, torture, oppression of minorities, the disappearance of bishops, deaths in detainment, attacks against farmers, workers, autonomous labour groups.  All of this is taking place in Burma as well.  And yet Myanmar is considered a "systemic" oppressor of rights, and appears on the list of the "top 10"; but China is an "authoritarian state" where political and democratic reforms are simply "not keeping up with economic reforms" (J. Farrar, of the U.S. state department).

This lenient attitude toward a China moving toward reforms was until recently typical of many commerce departments, which for more than 25 years continued to hope that, as China opened itself to market economics, it would sooner or later also open to human rights. Next to this, there is the optimistic and tolerant attitude of those who attribute all of these violations to local officials, while the central leadership is "good, honest, desirous of change". An underground Chinese Christian, whose bishop is in prison, has described this position as a pious "illusion": in China, he explains, "nothing happens without the approval of the central government".

Why in the world did the United States switch over to this approach this year? We can only guess.  The media emphasise that this "relaxation" will permit George W. Bush to participate in the Beijing Olympics without undergoing attacks from human rights organisations.  It seems to us that the report, and the very presence of Bush at the Olympics, are the result of the financial fragility into which the United States is sliding.  The credit crisis in the U.S. is creating friendship with those who, like China, are in a position to buy U.S. debt, thanks to the enormous foreign currency reserves in the Beijing treasury.  At the same time, the social fragility into which China is falling - with daily uprisings, pollution, abysmal poverty and dizzying wealth - needs a reprieve, above all in view of the Olympics, when the People's Republic will undergo a thorough check-up on the part of visitors and media.

We are unable to predict whether these two forms of weakness, by supporting one another, will succeed in remaining upright.  We are simply displeased that by taking the side of those who believe that economic reforms are the only thing necessary, the United States is suffocating any attempt for renewal that has been motivating the Chinese people for more than 30 years.

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