Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Wapo Editorial says Bush Weak on China

The Bonsai President comes in for some limp criticism from the Washington Post:

Yes, Mr. Bush did attend a church service, and he did offer some perfunctory remarks encouraging China "to continue making the historic transition to greater freedom." In a speech in Japan last week, he called on Beijing to meet "the legitimate demands of its citizens for freedom and openness." But political liberalization was nowhere near the top of a bilateral agenda with President Hu Jintao that was focused on trade and economic issues and North Korea's nuclear program. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman probably was accurate when he reported that "human rights issues made up a tiny, tiny, tiny part of the meeting between the leaders of the two countries."

The United States has always had to balance economic, security and political priorities in relations with China, and Beijing doesn't respond readily to pressure from Washington. But Mr. Bush's light touch with Mr. Hu is disappointing because the Chinese president, far from continuing a "transition to greater freedom" during his three years in power, has been moving his country in the opposite direction. The Chinese media, academia, religious groups and the local Internet are all more tightly controlled now than they were when Mr. Bush last visited China, in 2002. More than a dozen journalists and writers have been imprisoned in the past year; lawyers seeking to defend them have been disbarred. Plans to expand local elections and allow foreign newspapers have been frozen, and Hong Kong has been denied the free elections that were promised when Chinese sovereignty was restored.

There are so many problems with this editorial it is hard to see where to start. First, the US no longer has the moral authority to upbraid anyone, thanks to the conduct of our war in Iraq. When you yourself torture, detain indefinitely, detain in secret prisons, use chemical weapons, curtail democratic social norms and civil rights, hand out lucrative contracts to cronies, assail one's critics for being traitors, attempt to gain control of the media and academic discourse, and advocate state-supported religion, you are not in a position to lecture anyone else for being more successful than you are at doing eaxctly the same things. The Bush Administration's handling of The Middle Kingdom reflects the steadily weakening US moral position. Further, the Post's brain-dead support of the Iraq War and lazy reporting of Administration propaganda claims as facts during the propaganda blitz prior to the war gave the President credibility and helped put the US in a position where it has no moral high ground. Thanks, WaPo.

It should also be mentioned that the post's own writing on China has been less than balanced. In the 2000 election I wrote them a letter taking their correspondent in Beijing, John Pomfret, to task for portraying longtime authoritarian and then-Presidential candidate James Soong as a "democratic reformer." When the Post writes on China and Taiwan, it frequently does so from a pro-China position, like here. Pot, kettle, and all, WaPo.

In all, I think Bush's modest visit, modest goals, and modest achievements suited both the currently impaired political, moral, and military position of the US, as well as the modest gifts of the Bonsai President. China is on the rise, and the US is still feeling its way around in dealing with Beijing. Until the direction of history is clearer and there is more consensus among US policymakers -- and until such a time when the US recovers its lost moral and political authority -- a low-key approach is probably not a bad idea.

UPDATE: Articles summarizing Bush's visit courtesy of Anti-War:

Few Gains for Bush in China
Bush Has Little to Show for Asia Trip
US-China Ties Claimed to Be 'Perpetual'
China Shrugs Off Human Rights Criticisms
Bush Skirts Rights Issue in China
All Is Not Well in Sino-US Ties: Analysts

UPDATE: This diary at Kos made some interesting observations on Bush's itinerary.

1 comment:

Red A said...

Since Nixon has any president had a really breakthrough China visit?

They all seem the same, admonish a bit, visit a church, and clap over a Boeing deal.

I do recall people here getting in a sniffle over some 3 No's or what not Clinton said in Shanghai, which is the equivalent of China bristling that its should be more like Taiwan, i.e. tempest in teapot.

Best part: cool Mongol warriors.