Commentary Magazine


Who Will Be Held Accountable?

Twenty years ago today, Chinese troops fired on their own people who were demonstrating for freedom in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The slaughter preserved the rule of the Communist Party over the world’s most populous nation. Since then, despite corruption and an iron-fist approach to any spark of free speech, the party’s tyrannical control continues virtually unchallenged.

The administration of Barack Obama has jettisoned a concern for freedom in its approach to foreign policy throughout the world, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressly stating that human rights were a secondary concern in our dealings with China. Yesterday, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged the anniversary of this atrocity by calling for China to finally formally account for those killed in the massacre and to stop harassing the survivors and the families of the slain.

Mrs. Clinton’s statement was entirely appropriate and partially recoups — but only partially — her own sorry record on the issue that dates back to her days as First Lady.

However, the unlikely prospect of Beijing owning up to the truth about the despicable way it has clung to power is not the only accounting that needs to be done.

Just as necessary is an assessment of the way in which the West has served as a willing partner for the Communist regime during the past two decades. The refusal to take the human rights crisis in China seriously has been the work of a broad cross-section of America’s political and economic elites and encompassed administrations from both parties as well as both large and small business interests. Americans have accepted the indefensible notion that the lack of freedom — both political and religious — in China is no hardship for the Chinese people. We are told that the opening up of the economy is more important than the nature of the dictatorial and repressive regime that shows no signs of loosening its grip even though those same excuses never were deemed acceptable when the subject was the former Soviet Union or South Africa. The continued existence of the laogai — the Chinese gulag — does not attract the attention of the Western press. And the fact that, contrary to the assurances of apologists for Beijing, the 2008 Summer Olympics did nothing to improve the human rights situation, is similarly ignored.

Sooner or later the day will come when the criminals of Tiananmen Square will be called to account. Let us hope that the people of China, whose nation will, free or unfree, continue to be a rising force in international affairs, do not someday blame Beijing’s Western business partners as much as the Communists themselves for the way their rights were trampled and then forgotten.

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