I suppose it could have been worse. China could have sentenced “a veteran Chinese human rights campaigner who challenged the central government over the faulty construction of school buildings that collapsed during last year’s Sichuan earthquake” while Obama was still in the country. Instead they waited a week to throw the activist into jail for three years for “possessing secret state documents.” That’s what you get when a U.S. president downplays and downgrades human rights. Obama’s wimpiness has not gone unnoticed by human-rights activists:
Jiang Tianyong, described in a telephone interview how he was taken in for questioning by police Thursday, while walking his 7-year-old daughter to school, and detained for 13 hours before being released. The previous day, Jiang said, he had tried to approach the U.S. Embassy because he had heard that Obama might meet with human rights lawyers. But he was taken back to his house by police.
Jiang expressed disappointment that Obama had not met with human rights activists during his trip.
“There are a bunch of people in Chinese civil society who have enough courage to talk with Obama about the human rights issue in China,” Jiang said. “But Obama is not decisive enough or doesn’t have enough willpower to talk with the civil society.”
Despite his mention of “universal rights,” Obama, in the view of rights activists, “didn’t strike as hard of a tone on human rights as some of us had hoped for,” said Sam Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific director for the London-based group Amnesty International. “It’s tough to wag your finger about human rights when your hand is stretched out for more money.”
And what did we get for downplaying human rights in China? Nothing — well, there’s always the contempt of the government that knows it can act with impunity. We shouldn’t be surprised if we see more of the same, not only in China, but also in Cuba, Iran, Russia, North Korea, Syria, and other thuggish regimes. Despots in those countries will also see that they too can crack down on their own people without suffering many, if any, adverse consequences from the Obami. Maybe they’ll even get a state visit, one without uncomfortable interchanges between the U.S. president and human-rights activists.