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China's Crackdown on Bloggers and Human Rights Activists

And America's polite response.

3:31 PM, Mar 31, 2011 • By KELLEY CURRIE
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The State Department hasn't been much better. After American journalists were among those beaten up by Chinese security forces for trying to cover "Jasmine Revolution" events, the Department spokesman noted that Ambassador Huntsman had demarched China on the matter, but there was no mention of the broader crackdown underway or any concerns for its Chinese victims. On March 8, State's erstwhile spokesman P.J. Crowley finally did deliver a brief prepared comment expressing concern, by name, over the detention or disappearance of several individuals and calling for China "to uphold its internationally recognized obligations of universal human rights, including the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly." At the next day's briefing, however, when a journalist tried to follow up on the Chinese human rights situation with Crowley's deputy Mark Toner, he sounded as clueless as Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu, seemingly unable to articulate the Department's purpose in raising those cases at that time. (By way of contrast, State took less than 24 hours to condemn the March 29 arrest of Bahraini blogger Mahmood al-Yousif.)

And its not like they have lacked opportunities to address the situation in China. On February 16 - the same day the authorities began to close in on three top Chinese rights lawyers - Secretary Clinton's senior advisor for innovation (his actual title), Alec J. Ross, followed his boss in giving a speech on Internet freedom. After first downplaying China's importance as an Internet censorship leader, Ross said: 

When people ask me what the United States can do to change the internet in China, my response to that is that it’s less that the United States Government is going to change the internet in China than the more than quarter billion Chinese under the age of 25 who are on the internet today. I think that Chinese youth are going to define the future of the internet in China, not the American Government.

Other than this piffle, there was nothing on the fact that bloggers were being jailed and China was furiously employing unprecedented levels of Internet suppression that very week, including censoring the words "Egypt" and "Cairo" on search engines, and blocking online efforts by the U.S. embassy in Beijing to post messages about Secretary Clinton's Internet freedom speech on the previous day.

Over the next few months, as always, the United States government will be attempting to do serious business with the same lawless Chinese regime that is ruthlessly imprisoning and 'disappearing' intellectuals, writers, lawyers and others for political thought crimes, in flagrant contravention of its own laws and Constitution. We have big, important-sounding meetings coming up with them: the G-20, the Strategic & Economic Dialogue, and the East Asia Summit. Discussion of the deteriorating rights environment should be a major topic at all upcoming meetings with Chinese officials - not just a subject to be dumped into the ghetto of the bilateral human rights dialogue, which is supposedly scheduled for this spring. 

Contrary to the fantasy promoted by China's fan club on Wall Street and the New York Times editorial page (looking at you, Tom Friedman), the fundamentally authoritarian quality of the Chinese government does matter when we sit down to negotiate on everything from Iran to currency matters to the environment. It should be plainly obvious by now that a government that compulsively ignores its own laws in order to brutalize its own citizens will hardly feel bound by any agreements it reaches with its frenemies in Washington. If we aren't willing to confront the Chinese government over its abusive behavior at home, the least we can do is stop deluding ourselves about who and what that government really is, even when it is sitting across the table from us.

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