Challenging China

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I’ve been a bit silent here as the news of the first week of a new year washed over me in a literal flood. From the tragedy in Arizona and the floods in Australia, to the referendum in Sudan and political assassination in Pakistan.

Each and every one of those stories worth a blog post (or three) on their own.

But this morning as I did my daily news search one story jumped out at me — an interview/profile of Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng – and I just had to comment.

It wasn’t his tale of official intimidation and abuse that grabbed my attention. Sadly, beatings and electric shocks to the genitalia in custody are hardly enough to surprise regular China watchers anymore. Nor was it the fact that this individual – known for defending the defenseless – has been repeatedly placed under detention….again, hardly surprising in the criticism-phobic corridors of power in Beijing.

No, what got me was that this interview was conducted by The Associated Press eight months ago in the condition that it not be released unless Gao was able to secure asylum in another country OR he disappeared again. As it turns out the interview took place during a brief period of time that was Gao’s only taste of freedom in the last two years.  

This story comes just days after Chinese authorities made it plainly clear that they no longer feel the need to sit through human rights lectures from Western officials. Apparently Beijing feels it has enough economic and soft power on the international stage to begin flexing muscle in this arena despite an abysmal record. And, of course, this comes just a few short weeks after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo – or rather, to an empty chair representing Liu.

The truth is that “Western officials” haven’t the political will, the moral authority or the legal grounds to really challenge Beijing significantly. But that doesn’t mean any individual, group or country should stop trying ….

Beijing needs our markets as much as we need their products (and investments) and there is little doubt politicians could do more to place public pressure on China and keep the spotlight fixed on Beijing’s record. As China continues to edge out from the protectionism of yesteryear and becomes more comfortable with the worldwide engagement and interconnectedness of the new global reality, Beijing will loosen the reigns…in the meantime we all have an obligation to continue to speak for individuals like Gao and Liu as long as Beijing views them as a threat.

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