Friday, 11 May 2012

Media: Chen Guangcheng & Newsweek

Newsweek-20120514In the latest issue of Newsweek, you will find a good, long article about the magazine’s history with Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, “Blind Justice” by Melinda Liu, who has known the dissident for about a decade. The feature offers a very good explanation of Chen’s story.

The issue also includes an editorial by Tina Brown, “Resisters” (Periscope, p.4), which I thought contained a bit of a strange comment:

“One of the unsettling aspects of the Chen affair, as with the dissenter Fang Lizhi in 1989, has been the diplomatic dance required between geopolitical economic considerations and America's commitment to human rights.”

I don’t really know what to make of this comment. I think it’s the use of “unsettling”, and the fact that this fact should come as no surprise to anyone in the news business, as this sort of situation is absolutely the norm for US-China relations – and, in my opinion, is also common sense. It suggests a rather glaring misunderstanding of international relations, economics and foreign policy. The United States government and its diplomats must make considerations on a larger, broader political and diplomatic scale. To base or rest an entire foreign policy on the fate of one dissenter (regardless of how brave, audacious, commendable s/he may be) is folly and irresponsible. The US and Chinese governments must think of the whole relationship, which is becoming ever-more complex. Indeed, thus far, that policy has actually worked in America’s favour.

It doesn’t exactly cost Beijing much political to let one or two high-profile dissidents go whenever there’s a summit or event with prominent United States diplomats and cabinet officials. They always do this – not just in 1989, like Brown’s statement would suggest.

In fact, one easy way for any administration to further the human rights cause with China (limited as it would be) would be to just plan more summits with China. A glib proposition? Yes, certainly, but given Beijing’s intransigence on the issue, it would do more than is currently being done, and even a modicum of forward momentum should never be sneered at or avoided.

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