According to Sun Tzu, the doyen of military thinkers, you should “attack where your opponent is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.” This strategy was given a new twist recently when China appeared where few expected: attacking America’s human rights record.
“We urge the US side to reflect on its own human rights problem,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said last week.
The Chinese government gets very irate whenever the Americans criticise its own record. Indeed, its officials were pleased that Hillary Clinton kept quiet on the subject during her state visit. But tempers frayed on February 25 when the US released the ‘Human Rights Country Reports’.
These appear annually and assess human rights’ abuses across the globe. They draw an inflammatory response from China most years, but this time Beijing went a step further. To coincide with its release, the Information Office of the State Council had prepared its own report: ‘The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2008’. This was also published – across three pages – in the China Daily, the objective being to point out “the widespread human rights abuses on America’s own territory.”
Headlined ‘US, get your own house in order’, the document is mostly sourced from American newspapers; for example, quoting Washington Post (September 16, 2008) reports that one murder is committed in the US every 31 minutes, a rape every 5.8 minutes and a burglary every 14.5 seconds. Also mentioned is a Post statistic that the US has 2.3 million criminals behind bars, “more than any other nation in the world”. The overall impression one gains from reading the document is that the US has a lot of social problems, including an economy suffering from healthcare failings, growing income inequality and the rising cost of a college education.
Then again, all of these issues were raised as pressing concerns by Americans themselves during the last presidential election. Whether a convincing case is made that the US government is abusing its citizens’ human rights is less clear.
However, there is one human rights charge in the report that does bear thinking about: “The war in Iraq has led to the death of more than a million civilians, and made the same number homeless.”
It might be possible to dispute the exact numbers, but they are unquestionably large. So perhaps it is not without some grounds that the State Council’s document accuses the US of “double standards” in lecturing other countries about human rights, given its own track record in Iraq and at its interrogation facility in Guantanamo.
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