Kin-ming Liu at PostGlobal

Kin-ming Liu

Hong Kong

Former Washington-based columnist for The Hong Kong Standard, The New York Sun, and Insight on the News, an online weekly published by The Washington Times. Covered economic and political relations between the United States and East Asia, with an emphasis on China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Former chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association. Currently a business executive at a Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong. Close.

Kin-ming Liu

Hong Kong

Former Washington-based columnist for The Hong Kong Standard, The New York Sun, and Insight on the News, an online weekly published by The Washington Times. more »

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China's Business as Usual in Tibet

The Current Discussion: The U.S. State Dept. says China's no longer one of the world's worst human rights offenders. Are they right?

The current situation in Tibet seems to be vindicating those who decry China’s being left off the U.S. State Department's Top Ten list of human rights offenders. I view it differently.

In last week’s press conference to release the 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Jonathan Farrar, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said:

"Countries in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers remain the most systematic human rights violators. Here we would cite North Korea, Burma, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Eritrea and Sudan. Some authoritarian countries that are undergoing economic reform have experienced rapid social change, but have not undertaken democratic political reform and continue to deny their citizens basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. China remains a case in point."

First of all, the State Department doesn't officially publish a list of the worst human rights offenders. What it does do, usually in the report's introduction, is to highlight some countries that perform poorly. In 2007, the above ten countries made the list. In 2006, the report named eight countries: North Korea, Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe, Cuba, China, Belarus and Eritrea. In 2005, the list consisted of seven countries: North Korea, Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe, Cuba, China and Belarus.

By positioning China right next to, but not inside, this group of worst offenders, the State Department in fact presents a more accurate picture of the global human rights situation. That doesn't mean that China has behaved better. It hasn't, and the report correctly states, "The government's human rights record remained poor, and controls were tightened in some areas, such as religious freedom in Tibetan areas and in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR); freedom of speech and the media, including the Internet; and the treatment of petitioners in Beijing." In terms of denying "their citizens basic human rights and fundamental freedoms," (as Mr. Farrar stated), China, which hasn't "undertaken democratic political reform," is on par with the Top 10 nations.

What separates China from North Korea, Burma and others, however, is the "economic reform" and "social change" (again stated by Mr. Farrar) it has been experiencing. Even this critic of the Chinese Communist Party must admit there's not much trace of dictatorship left in the streets of Beijing. And I could easily imagine that I would prefer living in China to living in any of the Top 10 countries today. This is not a compliment to China, but a sad statement of the conditions in the other ten places.

There is one new element to what’s now happening in Tibet, and that is that thanks to modern technology, the outside world has more glimpses of Beijing's crackdown and repression there. To the Tibetans, I'm afraid this is only a continuation of what they have been facing since 1959, when the Chinese forced the Dalai Lama out of his kingdom. The human rights condition of Tibet, a nation occupied by China, is undoubtedly terrible. But that doesn't make China a worse offender – China has always been this bad.

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