Obama Waves, If Not Shakes, Economic Stick at China
By Frank Ahrens
This morning kicked off two days of intense economic discussions between the U.S. and China here in Washington, and President Obama opened the session with a speech, mentioning the unmentionable issue with China: human rights.
Obama said that the U.S. respects China's "ancient culture" but added: "We also strongly believe that the religion and culture of all peoples must be respected and protected, and that all people should be free to speak their minds."
"That includes ethnic and religious minorities in China, as surely as it includes minorities within the United States," Obama said.
This was an important statement from the young president and marked a significant break from his Democratic predecessor in the White House, Bill Clinton, who famously -- or infamously, depending on where you stand on China -- "de-linked" the human rights issue from trade between the two nations.
China may look like a market-based economy (it's really a poorly regulated Wild West bazaar) but make no mistake: Its central government remains totalitarian and does not tolerate dissent, especially from minority groups or organizations. Evidence is plentiful, from the crackdowns on the Falun Gong, the Tibetans, the Uighurs and even Christian Chinese.
Clinton made the calculation that China's might and value to the U.S. as a rising trading and global economic power was worth looking the other way at China's human rights crackdowns. In 1994, he granted China most-favored nation trading status, de-linking economics from the human cost in China.
Today, Obama did not shake a big stick at China, but perhaps he waved it a little bit.
Posted at 4:37 PM ET on Jul 27, 2009
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