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Two days ago, on the eve of the Beijing Olympics, President Bush condemned China’s human rights record. From the safety of Bangkok, Bush referred to Chinese crackdowns on dissenters in the lead-up to the Games, and declared1:

The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings.

Impeccable timing! The very next day, the US announced their intention to deprive Salim Hamdan, a poverty-stricken Yemeni taxi driver, of his fundamental liberties. Hamdan’s crime was the identity of his employer — he was Osama bin Laden’s driver. For over five years he was locked up at Guantanamo Bay, awaiting trial. Over the last couple of weeks, he was duly tried, and the military tribunal decided that driving around a known terrorist is a crime, but that it was his only crime. He was sentenced to 66 months. He has already served 61.2

In any freedom-loving society governed by the rule of law, you’d expect that he would be released in five months. However, the US is no freedom-loving society governed by the rule of law. (As further proof of this, see again who tried him.) On the subject of Salim Hamdan’s fate once he’d served his time, the Pentagon had this to say3:

He’ll still be retained as an enemy combatant.

WTF, USA? You have established a military base on Cuba and decided no national law applies there. Among your inmates are respected journalists (e.g. Sami al-Hajj) and you torture these people for years on end hoping they’ll divulge something you can charge them with. You pretend all of this is legitimate, that you’re still the land of the free despite it all, but how can you keep pretending? That military tribunal was your pathetic attempt to restore some semblance of respectability to the joint, and you’ve just announced that you intend to ignore it?

China’s certainly not a free country, but China doesn’t pretend to be. There is no freedom of speech in China, no freedom of the press, and they even have labour camps they send their citizens to without trial4. However, China’s not the one pretending to be the “leader of the free world”. China makes no secret of where they stand. They cop a lot of flak because of it, but at least they’re honest. In that regard, they’re one step ahead of you, USA.

  1. Reuters: Bush scolds China on rights day before Games
  2. Reuters: Bin Laden’s driver gets 5 1/2 years in prison
  3. BBC News: All sides claim Guantanamo trial win
  4. BBC News: Chinese man held for quake photos


  1. I think what a lot of people don’t take into account is the stage of history which China is at – as we’re so socially, politically, and technologically ‘behind’ the times (a result of two hundred years of lingering Western oppression and bad choices on the part of the Communist Party mid-century), we’re really only at a stage comparable to:

    1. The English Industrial Revolution.
    2. The American settlers.
    3. The early 1900s in Australia.
    4. etc.

    And I certainly don’t recall reading about “fundamental liberty” being granted to the underage workers in Manchester factories, the Native Americans when confronted by the frontier pioneers, the Aborginies when displaced of their land.

    It doesn’t make China’s actions okay, but it puts it in context. Things will improve over time – things have improved already, over time. To try and force “liberty” upon the Chinese through bureaucratic channels is simply an impossible task – social development in China is an organic process, to try and make it otherwise is to try and effect another political revolution.

    And we all know about the blood that was shed in the last revolution. We don’t need it to happen again.

  2. Keeping in mind the historical background is exactly why I’m more frustrated with the US than China. Early Americans founded their nation based on the ideals of individual rights and freedoms, and yet here they are betraying everything their founding fathers are supposed to have stood for. What history has China had of individual rights and freedoms? They had an emperor, then there was a massive war, and then they were Communist. I can’t sympathise with the Chinese government, but it makes more sense for a country with little history of freedom to abuse human rights than for a country which was founded on freedom to do so.

    Understanding where a state is coming from, to me, makes more sense than drawing direct comparisons like you’ve done with your list. States evolve in different ways. Sure, one could draw comparisons between the American settlers’ expansionist ambitions and China’s desperation to cling to Taiwan, but one would be wrong. China doesn’t want Taiwan because they’re expansionist; they want Taiwan because they’re determined that China will remain in one piece. China’s history has left it sensitive to notions of being carved up — a sensitivity that US settlers never shared. Or at least, that’s my understanding. As a result, I think comparisons like those can be misleading. Development is organic, not something you can put on a checklist.

    Now that I’ve rambled enough, I’ll add that if the Chinese people are determined, then they will get more rights over time. The people who want too much too quickly suffer (sadly), but so long as there’s pressure for reform, reform will have to come. There’s only so much a government can do to silence its people before beginning to fulfil some of their demands.

  3. OMG! I CAN COMMENT! 😀 😀 😀

    If one group of Chinese people decide to do a peaceful protest at places like Tiananmen, the government suddenly decides that it’s a major threat to national security and begins crackdown.

    But even so, the government isn’t extremely oppressive. It does what it can to try and improve the situation. I’d also like to point out that the sheer magnitude of the population also makes it harder for the government to overlook everything, so human rights situations like people-trafficking can’t be solved in a short period of time.

    Although, a massive military force does help. 🙂 Like, during the Sichuan earthquake, if it hadn’t been for the 30,000 or so troops the government sent there, way more people would’ve died. But of course, the army is also used for other reasons. Like cracking down on people.

    As for the government-induced oppression, I do agree with Jessie — in time, the Chinese gov. will realize that it’s no match for 1.3 billion people (And the rest of the world). And in the meantime, the US needs to stop being hypocritical.

    Although, I’m not surprised. After all, that’s just the way American politics has been and will be, even with the foundation of ‘freedom for all’.

  4. That comment was quite painful, considering my anti-Chinese gov. views. XP

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