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Contentions

What Bounces Off Me Sticks to You

Alana notes that Beijing has employed the “I am rubber, you are glue” defense against the U.S. by releasing its own report on human rights in the U.S., in response to American criticism of China. Much of it is malarkey, and to the extent the left takes it seriously—and Alana compiles some depressing evidence on this score—it is yet another indication that “rights talk” on the left is more about contempt for the West in general, and the U.S. and Israel in particular, than it is about standing up for basic standards of decency.

Of course, after the long, sorry saga of the Goldstone Report, more evidence to this effect is superfluous. Still, China’s complaints are interesting nonetheless, for while they tell us nothing about United States, they reveal a lot about what worries China. It is particularly revealing that one of China’s leading complaints is that the U.S. promotion of internet freedom is just a ploy to advance American hegemony. A Wikileaks cable in December revealed that China turned against Google when a leading Chinese politician did a vanity search on his own name which turned up articles criticizing him. The Chinese “human rights report” demonstrates yet again that China fears U.S. leadership on human rights issues more than anything. The Chinese seek naturally, therefore, to employ the ever-reliable tool of Western liberal guilt to encourage the U.S. to give up that leadership.

In particular, Chinese authorities fear anything—including internet freedom—that would give Chinese citizens the tools to discover for themselves the full extent of Chinese Communist Party corruption, or the fact that their local complaints are really not local at all. As recently-arrested Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei reflected,

The only thing I can do in China is go on the internet,” and even here, the constant surveillance “shows the weakness of their power. It’s so pitiful, you don’t even want to say it: their lacking confidence, their lacking skill in communication, their refusal to discuss any matter intellectually.

China’s bravado on human rights is a first cousin to China’s fear of them.

So it is particularly pleasing that the budget deal makes provision to transfer $10 million in funding for internet freedom promotion from the State Department (which so far has done nothing but sit on the money) to the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The agency that supervises Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty along with six other independent broadcasting organizations, the BBG appears to have done something remarkable with the nominal amounts it has received to date: it has used technology that actually works. The budget deal has problems, but this is one distinctly good part of it.

To date, the Obama administration’s strategy on internet freedom has been to talk a lot, but to do absolutely nothing that would alienate China. Thanks to Senator Richard Lugar, who led the charge on this issue, the administration has been forced to back away, if ever so slightly, from its strategy. The Chinese have told us very clearly what they are afraid of, and where they think they are vulnerable. We would be foolish not to take advantage.



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