Indictment of American society
It has become a ritual that, each year, after the State Department publishes its report on human rights practices around the world, China responds by issuing a human rights report on the United States. This year was no different.
The Chinese report is largely an indictment of American society, drawing attention to such things as the crime rate (highest in the world), the prevalence of guns (“rampant gun ownership”), the number of prison inmates (one in every 100 adults) and the high cost of campaign expenses (the midterm elections cost $3.98 billion, the highest ever).
Most of these allegations would be readily acknowledged by the U.S. government and, in fact, China relies largely on American newspaper reports to substantiate its charges.
However, Washington would not consider these to be human rights issues.
By contrast, the American report zeroes in on core civil and political rights, beginning with freedom from arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life and “disappearances,” followed by arbitrary arrest or detention and denial of fair public trial.
China is found wanting in all these areas, with the government involved in extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial detention and extralegal house arrest.
By and large, the Chinese report ignores what the U.S. considers to be core human rights.
One of the few areas dealt with by both the Chinese and American reports is privacy.
The American report asserted that while the law requires warrants before law enforcement officials can search premises, “this provision frequently was ignored.”
In fact, the U.S. report repeatedly cites guarantees that are provided in the Chinese constitution or in law and then points out that in practice the authorities did not respect such rights.
On privacy, the Chinese report says “citizen’s privacy has been undermined.” Citing figures released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), it said that more than 6,600 travelers had been subjected to electronic device searches between Oct. 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010, “nearly half of them American citizens.”
The Chinese report does not mention it, but these searches took place on the border and the information was obtained by the ACLU as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The U.S. deems the right of citizens to change their government a key political right.
However, in China, the constitution stipulates that the country is led by the Communist Party. The formation of opposition political parties is illegal.
The Chinese report castigates the U.S. for many social problems, including racial discrimination. It cites a New York Times report of Oct. 28 to the effect that more than six in 10 Latinos say discrimination is a “major problem” for them, and said this was a significant increase in the last three years.
Where poverty is concerned, it says that the “proportion of American people living in poverty has risen to a record high,” quoting a Washington Post article of Sept. 19 that “Florida had a total of 27 million people living in poverty.”
Interestingly, the Chinese report contains a section on America’s “violations of human rights against other nations.” There is no equivalent in the U.S. report on China or any other country.
In this section, China asserted that the U.S. “has a notorious record of international human rights violations,” many of which stem from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have caused huge civilian casualties.
Citing WikiLeaks, China alleged that American agents “were involved in an abduction of a German citizen mistakenly believed to be a terrorist.”
Careful readers of the Chinese report would learn that in the U.S. the press is not controlled by the government and is free to report negative information that can be used against the government.
In addition, they would know that U.S. citizens can obtain information from the government and that there are nongovernment organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union that are allowed to advocate individual rights through actions that challenge the government.
This is not possible in China, where all NGOs have to be supervised by a government agency.
Maybe, one day, there will be a free press in China and a Chinese Civil Liberties Union that can act independently and work to uphold the human rights of Chinese citizens.
Possibly, by then, China may not feel a need to defend its human rights practices by attacking those in the United States.
Frank Ching is a journalist and commentator in Hong Kong. He can be reached at Frank.firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: FrankChing1.