When President Obama meets with China’s paramount leader, Hu Jintao, he faces the challenge of how to repair a China policy widely seen as a decades-old, bipartisan disaster.
U.S. policy has been rooted in engaging China under the theory that by fostering trade and economic liberalization, political liberalization would eventually follow.
Thus, the United States could transform China while making a profit; American businessmen were encouraged to believe they could do good by doing well for themselves.
Fueled by the dream of an immense China market, American businessmen and policymakers have lived under the delusion that the great payoff is just over the horizon. When the profits didn’t come and the improvements in human rights never materialized, true believers still felt the promised land was sure to come.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has a different view. The cadres running China have viewed relations with the United States as an undeclared war and have sought every advantage in their battle to eliminate the threat posed by the United States.
The cadres understand that they are in a competition of two mutually exclusive systems. The freedom and peaceful enjoyment of rights offered by the United States are a standing rebuke to the CCP’s authoritarianism. So long as the United States prospers, the CCP cannot rest easy in its rule; so long as the CCP is insecure, it must seek to undermine the United States.
Meanwhile, out of devotion to the idea of engagement, successive U.S. administrations have downplayed human rights, for fear of offending the CCP and troubling the relationship.
In theory, engagement involved the United States teaching a backward Chinese regime to protect human rights. In practice, the Chinese regime has been instructing the United States to abandon rights as a cornerstone of U.S. policy.
By emphasizing the economic relationship, the United States demonstrated to the CCP, China’s people, and the world that, no matter what fine words U.S. politicians might utter on ceremonial occasions, what really counted was trade.
This elevation of trade has willy-nilly established a moral equivalence between the brutal Chinese regime and the United States. If what really counts is getting the high-speed trains to run on time, then the question of the form of government is simply a question of efficiency.
Not surprisingly, some Western intellectuals have begun to admire the Chinese regime—consider the New York Times’s Tom Friedman. Chinese intellectuals have begun to make the case for the superiority of the one-Party state, and the CCP is making alliances with tyrannies around the world in an effort to demonstrate on the ground the viability of its model.
Rather than subordinating rights to trade and other concerns, President Obama should place support for human rights at the center of U.S. policy toward China.
U.S. advocacy for the rights of the Chinese people cannot avoid dealing with the persecution of Falun Gong. President Obama should embrace the opportunity that this persecution offers.
Falun Gong practitioners suffer the largest religious persecution in the world today. Prior to the beginning of the persecution in July 1999, several Western news outlets reported that 100 million Chinese were practicing Falun Gong—one in every 12 Chinese. Today, the Falun Dafa Information Center estimates that between 20 million and 40 million people are still practicing Falun Gong, in spite of severe persecution.
This persecution involves the largest-scale and most severe abuse of human rights in China. According to the U.N. special rapporteur on Torture two-thirds of the reports of torture in China involve Falun Gong adherents. The U.S. State Department refers to international observers who say that one-half of those in China’s vast labor camp system are Falun Gong—a number in the hundreds of thousands.
This persecution is also the most sensitive topic in dealing with the CCP, which warns other governments not to bring it up—which is exactly why President Obama should do so.
The size and severity of the human rights violations targeting Falun Gong and the sensitivity of this issue for the CCP make it a massive fulcrum that President Obama can use to give U.S. policy its greatest leverage.
Putting the moral weight of the United States behind Falun Gong practitioners’ demand for freedom of conscience will give hope to all those in China fighting for their rights.
The United States, rather than appearing to be the failed system portrayed by CCP propaganda, will emerge as the true friend of the Chinese people.
In place of a policy that has lent legitimacy to a brutal regime by refusing to criticize it, President Obama will undermine the twin pillars of the CCP’s rule. He will contradict the CCP’s propaganda and declare illegitimate the CCP’s terror.
Chinese dissidents and the Chinese people more generally will rally to support the Falun Gong practitioners, recognizing that should the CCP end the persecution of Falun Gong, then the CCP itself will have to change.
As soon as the persecution ends, every other aggrieved individual and group in China will demand redress, and the CCP will find its claims to rule begin to crumble.
With such frank support for the rights of the Chinese people the United States would be seeking to transform the Chinese regime. But that was always the goal of the policy of engagement, why not pursue that goal in a more straightforward and effective manner?
The Chinese regime will have no effective response to the United States. It will never sell off U.S. bonds for fear of wrecking China’s own economy.
The CCP’s greatest fear is that the United States will restrict Chinese access to the U.S. market—a fear that a steadfast U.S. government can play upon to advance rights in China.
The Chinese regime’s propaganda about the decadence of Western democracy will ring hollow in the face of a vigorous assertion of the best of the West’s political tradition.
By supporting the rights of Falun Gong practitioners, President Obama will restore America’s honor and sense of purpose and establish a new framework for the competition with the Chinese regime that favors the United States.
He will also support the legitimate demands of the Chinese people and offer hope that the nightmare of the CCP’s rule will end.
When he sits down with the dictator Hu, President Obama may begin to accomplish these things by leaning over and saying, “Stop persecuting Falun Gong.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.