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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Borde-nough: China abuses human rights, yet again

Published: March 19, 2010
Section: Opinions

This week, Western leaders’ favorite dictators continued their ongoing demonstration of how a bunch of all-around great guys can run a country where none of that annoying individual-rights stuff gets in their way.

Ever so gently, and almost as quietly, British and American officials had prodded their Chinese counterparts to say something about the whereabouts of Gao Zhisheng, a Chinese lawyer who had criticized the dictators and specializes in human rights cases.

Gao was last seen more than a year ago, when the dictators sent a jack-booted hospitality committee to his family’s home to take him to a new residence.

There are times when each of us just wants to get away from it all, and the dictators decided to give Gao a chance to do just that.

During previous detentions, Gao once disclosed, his hosts had hooked him up to their electrified torture devices and shocked him. This time, they hooked him up with an extended vacation at a location rumored to be somewhere in China’s vast, remote Xinjiang province.

On Tuesday, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi told a press conference that “Gao Zhisheng has been sentenced for committing the crime of subverting state power.” Apart from a few officials working for those departments of the state that handle kidnapping, beating and torturing dissidents, and a few others who are a part of China’s joke of a judicial system, no one had known even that much about Gao.

“His relevant rights based on [Chinese] law have been protected, so the question of torture does not exist,” added Yang.

Yang couldn’t have put it better. In China, where judicially protected rights yield when the dictators want them to, one can be sure that Yang is as good as his word when he says that Gao’s rights weren’t violated.

Telling the Western powers that their question “does not exist” doesn’t work for all dictators–if you’re ever hanging out in hell, just ask Saddam Hussein.

But China finances the operations of our government. Moreover, during the 1990s, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s husband was president, the so-called “Chinagate” campaign finance scandal showed the dictators not to be above greasing the palms of American politicians and political party leaders.

When you’ve got that kind of influence, you can tell American politicians whatever you want.

Being such good fellows, Yang and his dictatorial buddies have not contacted Gao’s wife, Geng He, or their two children with disturbing information about his whereabouts. They’re far away, having moved to the United States for their own safety. Although Geng said on Wednesday that she’d heard nothing from him, the considerate dictators probably reasoned that knowing too much about Gao’s detention might upset her.

They did permit Gao to telephone his brother, who told a British Broadcasting Company reporter that Gao was “fine.” Gao’s brother, however, was not fine with talking to the reporter for any length of time. “Please go home soon, don’t stay for too long,” he said, “because if the local authority finds out, it won’t be nice.”

In Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries, the US government has seen fit to use dictators’ mistreatment of their subjects as a pretext for war. In a nuclear-armed country like North Korea, the US government has seen fit to use locals’ mistreatment as the basis for lots of toothless jawboning about human rights. But America’s nuclear-armed creditor China can influence American officials in many ways–including by leaning on the greed-driven American companies that have patriotically invested their American-made profits in the People’s Republic–so the United States approaches human rights issues timidly.

If American officials don’t enjoy openly discussing Chinese abuses, American companies seem positively happy to do business in a place where the only rights enforceable when the chips are down belong to dictators.

Google’s logo has a range of colors to it, but the world will find out its managers’ true colors when the company decides in the near future whether to stay in China and resume censoring its searches or to leave and forfeit profits.

Google’s willingness to censor at the Chinese government’s behest was far more typical of American business behavior than its more recent hesitation to continue doing so.

In any case, returns to foreign capital in China are boosted by the trampling of a wide variety of human rights other than speech rights.

Profits come first for everyone involved. They would be harder to make if Chinese dissidents and human rights lawyers had their way.

It’s a lot easier to smile, nod and agree with Yang and other Chinese leaders that the extent to which the Chinese government abuses locals is of local concern.