Secretary Clinton has been as busy girl. Not even six weeks into the job and she has visited major allies and potential partners and is on deck to visit more within the next two weeks. Already she has earned criticism and courted controversy in her handling of issues and her style. In her most important trip to date, meeting with Chinese officials and leaders in Beijing, she has displayed great candor and pragmatism in her public comments.
When pressed to comment about how she proposed to address human rights with Chinese officials, she acknowledged that, while she would stress the need for respect of the human rights of Chinese citizens by its government, it was unlikely that the situation would change. She was immediately attacked for her comment by those who took it as a sign of a lack of commitment by Secretary Clinton to rectify human rights abuses by the Chinese government against its people. She has spent the bulk of her trip dealing with the more practical issues that face our two nations, such as environmental standards, energy usage, trade, and the nuclear situation in North Korea, but has not made human rights a prominent public issue on this visit. Personally, I do not equate a realistic approach to China and their treatment of human rights with a lack of commitment. Nowhere did Secretary Clinton say that it was the US’s intention to condone the present situation or to stand by and remain silent.
The Chinese are not likely to change overnight and any initiatives that the US would be able to bring about in the Chinese government’s handling of human rights would take place over an extended period of time. The CCP has been more successful in bringing about positive change for its people than other communist states such as the USSR, so dramatic overthrow of their system of government is unlikely. The CCP has also shown more tolerance for the creeping influx of capitalism at a rate that does not threaten the status quo, but that also makes an increasingly less isolated populace content. Over the last 50 years or so, the US has claimed to be the world’s major proponent of liberty and freedom around the world. We have told the world that self-determination of a nation’s people is a birthright granted to all and that no government should infringe on that right. We have invaded and gone to war in foreign countries and aided the civil wars of many more nations to further this belief . However, I find the paradox of this very disturbing. In Western thought, rights belong to the individual from birth. People give society authority by recognizing its importance enough to give up some these rights to the society at large, such as the rights to judge and to punish.
Society is not justified in taking away any of the rights remaining to the individual, because they do not have the authority to do so. Individuals are the sole holders of rights, so the needs of society do not outweigh the inalienable rights of the individual, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. China, like many other societies and nations in this world, is far older than we are. They have cultural, religious, and societal traditions spanning over thousands of years. Unlike the Western world, Chinese culture, indeed most Asian cultures, is distinctively collectivist in nature. There are no individual rights because the individual per se has no value. A person’s value exists in relation to the whole; worth is measured by their contribution to society. If a society does not recognize the value of the individual on hies own merit, then it does not recognize the inalienable rights belonging to the individual. Does a society that does not recognize the individual lose its right of self-determination or the liberty to decide how to govern itself based on traditions that have existed for thousands of years and are at the core of its belief system just because they don’t think like us? If we believe that every nation’s people has the right to decide for itself, without intrusion, what form of government it wants, then why should the US feel justified in trying to tell other nations how they should govern themselves and what rights and value systems they should promote? While I desire to live in a country that values my rights and freedoms as an individual because that is the value system I was raised under, is it right to assume that everyone else in the world feels like me, even if the values they were raised under are different? Seems a bit self-righteous and egotistical to me. If freedom is the right of all, don’t other nations and their people have the freedom to disagree with us? Secretary Clinton, in her comments, has shown a willingness to understand that other nations with differing values than ours have different priorities. Maybe when we start practicing what we preach on a world stage instead of trying to tell everyone else how they should live, especially as our country struggles with its own issues, we would earn the right to suggest to other nations how they should govern. Until we can truly be a beacon of hope and a model of inspiration, we should just agree to disagree and respect the right of self-determination of all the nations of the world.