China continues to uphold its reputation as a nation unconcerned about its citizens’ rights. Monday, Chinese authorities arrested five campaigners for the China Democratic Party in a major setback to the first serious attempt since 1949 at establishing an opposition political party. The arrests come after Li Peng – the extremely conservative No. 2 man in the Beijing government – attacked the opposition party’s efforts, sharply criticized Western democracy and defended his role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
In the past, when China failed to abide by international human rights agreements, most of the world barely utters a word. In October, the Beijing government signed the United Nation’s Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Signatories are supposed to respect their people’s rights, freedoms and liberties. But China views itself as a special case. It wants to be viewed and treated like a great power, but fails to live up to its agreements. When the rest of the world mentions Chinese infractions, Beijing retreats into a hostile and defensive crouch and tells the world not to interfere in its internal affairs.
The Chinese can’t have it both ways. The United States prides itself on its democratic ideals and institutions. But when situations arise that would force Washington to criticize a major trading partner for its abuses of citizens’ rights, the government has chosen to issue more of a light slap on the hand than anything meaningful.
The United States must consistently speak out when injustices are being carried out, if it does not want to be accused of having a double standard when it comes to highlighting and criticizing gross human rights violations.
China is a nuclear power with more than a billion people living within its borders. Its attempts to use a free market economic system designed to suit the nation’s needs are a good first step at eliminating the Communist Party’s grip on the nation. But while it is necessary for the United States to remain engaged with the Chinese government, it also is necessary for Washington to maintain sight of the fact that millions of Chinese are suffering under harsh conditions. Otherwise, silence is the same as consent.