Embarrassment = six months in prison

It’s probably the understatement of the year to claim that the People’s Republic of China doesn’t exactly have the best human rights record. Over the last 17 years China has averaged 2,000 reported, with as many as 10,000 more alleged, executions per year with the majority killed being political dissidents with countless thousands more jailed for attempted to express their basic civil liberties. While these heinous acts usually blend into the background of the fluctuating relationship between the United States and China, they came back to the forefront last Thursday.

On that day during an “official visit” between President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House, Dr. Wang Wenyi, a reporter for The Epoch Times, a conservative, Chinese-language newspaper linked to the Falun Gong Movement, proceeded to shout down Hu while calling on Bush to pressure the Chinese government to abide by international law. For her act of civil disobedience Wang was arrested by the Secret Service and charged with willfully intimidating a foreign official, a charge that could earn her six months in jail.

Despite the possible illegality of her actions, the simple truth of the matter is that Wang was not incorrect in her assertions. For example, more than 80 percent of those put to death worldwide via governmental action last year were killed in China.

While the pro-democracy movement has been underground since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the Chinese government has persecuted many groups for violating Communist party orthodoxy. In response to those perceived “attacks” upon governmental authority, thousands have been jailed – most infamously, members of the Muslim Uighur minority and members of the Falun Gong mediation exercise movement. As for Wang’s request that the United States put more pressure on the Chinese government, it’s likely to go unanswered for two major reasons. First, the United States has harmed its standing in the world community with its actions in Guantanamo and various prison camps in Iraq. While Bush’s human rights record is light years better than Hu’s, the simple truth is that in such a case the messenger and therefore the message would be considered to be tainted.

Second, if the United States decided to put pressure on China, an action desired by many on all sides of the political spectrum, all that would happen is China would cut off the United States and retreat into self-imposed isolationism.

While the old neo-liberal chestnut of free markets eventually leading to improvement in human rights may seem as though it’s not working in China, the United States doesn’t really have any other option that would actually force China to change on this issue. No option that would avoid crippling both countries’ economies, if not worse.

Therefore, it’s not much of a stretch to say that pestering Hu in private and hoping American capital does its job is the best that Bush can do.

However, that doesn’t excuse threatening to send someone to prison, simply for embarrassing a foreign official the United States is in the midst of sucking up to.

The above is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.