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The recent dramatic escape of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng has shone a light on the cruelty of the practices used to employ China’s infamous “One Child” policy, and the desperation and barbary a government with unchecked power can utilize in the face of an ever daunting problem such as population control. Chen Guangcheng puts a face on China’s human rights problem. The activist and self-taught lawyer was jailed for four years for publicly protesting the forced abortions and sterilization of women in his country. (Read about these practices here: http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/30/world/asia/china-forced-abortions/index.html) He was then transferred to house arrest, where he remained for 19 months prior to his incredible escape to the American Embassy over 300 miles away. Over the course of his imprisonment under house arrest, he had decried the abuse he and his family suffered at the hands of guards. He recalled an instance in which guards broke into his house and held his wife inside of a comforter for hours while they mercilessly kicked and punched her before doing the same to him
Chinese officials are ashamed. They know how things like this look to the outside world, and they know how their restive population will react. This is why they censor. Widespread and immediate censorship was practiced in relation to Chen, especially after news of his escape spread on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. “Ashamed” might be the wrong word. They just don’t want a public relations disaster on their hands. They needn’t worry, though. United States officials have not significantly responded to any of this, and now, a week after Chen’s asylum-seeking mission to the U.S. Embassy, he has been surrendered (aka “brought of his own volition”) to a Beijing hospital, where Chinese officials have made no attempt to conceal the fact that they’re very angry with him and the attention he’s caused.
International Relations 101 is that the international system is anarchic. The actions of individuals within this system couldn’t be farther from the truth. Individuals, just as the nation-states they comprise, act in rational self interest within the system–to an extent. By its very nature, the system of nation-states that dot the earth necessitates cooperation. This is becoming more evident every day, as an increasingly globalized world proves that no country is a (proverbial) island–unless that country is North Korea, and it isn’t actually isolated; despite its constant claims of “juche”, the country is held up by the aforementioned human rights abuser, China.
I mention all of this because I see Earth’s population as a single entity: that of human society. International law, for all of its failings, exists for a reason. This is to exert order on an otherwise “anarchic”/chaotic world and to set standards for the behavior of members in the society. Apologists fearful of stepping on toes will employ the ethic of moral relativism, claiming cultural imperialism and the like, frightened of offending a subculture within world society, and therefore not reaping the individual benefits for their home country. Case in point: The United States’ unwillingness to intervene in a very obvious instance of a human rights abuse by China. Journalists reported that President Obama remained “tight lipped” on the issue of Chen Guangcheng’s detention, daring escape, and limbo-like existence as he took refuge in the American Embassy in Beijing. The American Embassy! Could there be a clearer appeal to aid from the United States?! Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a former advocate of Chen Guangcheng, remained silent on the issue, even as she arrived in Beijing for an economic summit with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. In fact, both parties–the U.S. and China–deliberately informed the world that the summit would not focus on Cheng, that the triviality of his plight should not get in the way of larger economic issues. You know, issues of global significance, unlike the issue of human rights. Read more here: http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/02/world/asia/china-clinton-visit/index.html
President Obama offered up this single comment on the situation: “Every time we talk to China, the issue of human rights comes up”, he claimed. Does it? Perhaps. Or, perhaps, the idea that America owes China money (an issue which isn’t quite that simple and America could actually use to its advantage) has cowed America, and made it China’s bitch. Not very diplomatic? Looking the other way while a country tortures its people while the first country loves to proclaim its “shining beacon on a hill” status every chance it gets, is much less diplomatic. It is shameful, disturbing, but, perhaps, worst of all, it is unflinchingly hypocritical. Some countries–those with less strategic importance, perhaps–are punished, while China is given a gold star. Even if American representatives don’t approve of China’s treatment of its citizens (citizens of the world, fellow human beings), they issue their tacit approval by not speaking out on such matters. There are a select few people in positions of power whose voices carry a disproportionate amount of weight, yet they choose to remain silent because silence is easier and more convenient than standing up for human dignity when it counts.
What will Chen Guangcheng’s fate be? What does the future portend for the millions of women who have been forced to undergo painful, sometimes life-threatening abortions and forced sterilizations? What about the women and girls who daily exist as members of a society in which they are told they are unwanted, if they are lucky enough not to have been killed at birth or abandoned? A society of 1.35 billion people–females and males alike–is scarred by the destruction wrought by the Chinese Communist Party. A worry of the Party is the disproportionate number of boys to girls born in the country: 118 boys to 100 girls, the only country in the world with a significantly higher proportion of boys than girls. A telling statistic, but why does the Party mention it? It is worried about the “many unhappy bachelors” of China’s future. This type if statement is emblematic of the prevailing view in China of men as substantially more important than women. Some efforts have been made to curb violence and cruelty against women, particularly women carrying a second child or a female child, but these efforts are half-assed at best, and not uniformly enforced. This is why figures like Chen Guangcheng emerge. Courageous individuals attempt to protect their fellow human beings because the government–whose first duty is to protect its people–has failed them. Worse yet, it is the perpetrator of violence against its own. Other countries Iike the United States have a moral obligation to try to aid these suffering people, fellow citizens of our global society. The United States could certainly facilitate protection for Chen and his daughter, mother, and wife. US State Department officials reported that Chen did not seek asylum in the United States, but it has been widely reported that he was coerced into leaving the U.S. Embassy because his family’s life was threatened.
Articles on Chen’s coercion to leave the U.S. Embassy and the reaction of Chinese officials:
Instead of attempting to secure the safety of Chen Guangcheng and his family, and using this situation as a springboard from which to discuss the brutality of China’s One Child policy and its crackdown on dissidents, U.S. officials chose not to help. A single blind man has seen more than powerful sighted people who have averted their eyes.