The Chinese government, obviously sick of having its human rights record questioned by Western governments, has hit back (China People’s Daily On-Line, April 11 2011), with the US its first target.
Let me say at the outset, I have no wish to defend the Chinese Government’s human rights record. The secrecy, the unknown but obviously high rate of execution and the frequent imprisonment rate of critics of the government suggests that Amnesty International will continue to have China in its sights for several more years to come. Their attempt to control bloggers is also not in dispute. But when you read the article they have commissioned in response it is hard to fault the logic. For example they suggest the US could look at its own human rights record particularly with such matters as what they call the US outrageous rate of gun ownership which has resulted in something like 12,000 deaths by murder per year and many more gun related injuries.
They criticise the undoubted human rights violations associated with the US War on Terror and without being specific it is easy to relate this criticism to the now reducing practice of rendition ie the making frequent use of countries with a poor record on torture for the interrogation of suspected terrorists and US political prisoners. (Recent disclosure of Egypt’s role in this procedure showed that it was more common than previously admitted.) They also refer to the high rate of deaths and civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In response to the criticism on internet control they state: “While advocating Internet freedom, the US in fact imposes strict restriction on cyberspace. They remind their readers that on June 24, 2010, the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, which will give the American federal government “absolute power” to shut down the Internet under a declared national emergency rule”.
Treatment of prisoners while in fact probably better than many other nations is of course far from perfect. For example the US has a very high rate of incarceration on a world scale and a number of states retain and still use the death penalty.
The China People’s Daily article pointed out that the US treatment of the disadvantaged hardly gives them the right to criticise others. For example they quote figures to show that over recent years the proportion of Americans living in hunger and starvation increased sharply. The China Daily also quoted from a report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in November which showed that 14.7 percent of US households were food insecure in 2009. The report pointed out the number of families in homeless shelters increased 7 percent to more than 170, 000. The US Census Bureau reported in September that a total of 44 million Americans found themselves in poverty. The share of residents in poverty climbed to 14.3 percent in 2009, the report said.
Although the report incorrectly identifies the US as having the highest rates of violent crime in the world (ie I believe Columbia and South Africa are countries that have higher rates)in general terms they are very close to being correct. Correct too is the charge that the so called democratic process has become largely a matter of using obscene amounts of money getting key politicians elected. For evidence they quote a report from The Washington Post on October 26, 2010, which claimed U.S. House and Senate candidates shattered fundraising records for a midterm election, taking in more than $1.5 billion. The midterm election, held in last November, cost $3.98 billion, the most expensive political rally in the US history.
While I dont think China is in a position to criticise the US it has always seemed to me that it is alway worth stepping back and asking the question – how do we in the West appear to others? For example Saudi Arabia for all its faults has a miniscule crime rate compared with the US, and the US has clearly messed up in terms of gun laws if there are so many victims of gun crime each year. Unfortunately the standard procedure is to compare one’s own ideals with other people’s practice which hardly does much for international relationships.
The general criticisms the Chinese have made could apply to other Western criticisms as well. If the Western nations were a little more objective they might not be so critical about Islam either. For more than a billion followers of Islam, what proportion are suicide bombers? and in terms of victims how many more civilian casualties result when the West pursues its noble causes in the Middle East? And if it comes to that, how many nuns wear a habit in France compared with the estimated less than 2000 Islamic women wearing a full burka in France.
Come to think of it Western Australia’s minister for women’s interests Robyn McSweeny has recently stirred up some controvery for her criticism that the burka is non-Australian. Just wondering: would hanging corks from the burka overcome the problem?