Human Rights are Human Rights

At least someone seems to care.

Reporters Without Borders protest at Olympic flame ceremony

The very fact the Chinese government seems convinced the current protests in Tibet are an attempt to mar this summer’s Olympics betrays the fears they have regarding possible embarrassment this summer.

The disinclination of governments supposedly built on foundations of human rights and free speech to criticise the Chinese government has been a problem for several years now. Funnily enough, the transition from post-Tiananmen outrage to eager reconciliation seems to have converged rather neatly with the elevation of China’s astounding economic success to even further unbelievable heights in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

None of this is news. But it is simply wrong when Steven Spielberg pulls out of the Olympics on the sole grounds that the Chinese government is complicit in the events in Darfur, when that government is guilty of human rights abuses against its own citizens on a habitual basis.

The argument that things are better than they used to be just doesn’t wash. The current situation in Tibet is highly unlikely to transform into a nationwide problem for Beijing. The vast majority of Chinese agree overwhelmingly with their government on this issue. But it is important to remember that the government tightly controls information delivered to the Chinese population, to a degree that makes the western world’s problems with corporate control of the media seem trivial in comparison.

The Chinese people are proud of their country and who they are; they should be. I don’t begrudge any Chinese person the right to be nationalistic, or the right to choose a different path of development from that of western nations. I believe that the right to free expression of one’s beliefs is a human right, however, and not the exclusive result of Eurocentric philosophical traditions.

China is a fantastic country blessed with rich history and traditions. Criticising the Chinese government is not the same thing as criticising China, or the Chinese people. The world economy has become increasingly reliant on China in recent years, and western nations have become dependent on her exports. It is wrong, however, to allow economic gain to obscure clear human rights issues in China.

The issue is not an example of weaknesses in the capitalist system but rather one of the cowardice of western bureaucracy. The fact that British athletes were ever asked to keep their political beliefs to themselves is a worrying sign of just how much we are willing to compromise our supposedly cherished beliefs to avoid conflict with an increasingly powerful nation. The situation in Tibet is just the latest chapter in the tragic history of a region forgotten by most now the celebrity buzz has passed on, but perhaps it can spur some of us with the right to express ourselves freely to protest and offer criticism of a flawed Chinese system of government in a peaceful and dignified manner.

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4 responses to “Human Rights are Human Rights

  1. I think human rights are important, did you know that?

  2. i definitely appreciate this post, but i’m unclear as to yr actual opinion — we *should* criticize the chinese government, but in a more dignified manner? i’m not arguing, just trying to clarify. how would we do that, exactly?

  3. I’m saying that we should criticize the Chinese government. I consider the protests in Greece peaceful and dignified. I just mentioned that at the end because more spectacular or effusive protests just wouldn’t rub with Chinese people. They’d think we were being jerks.

  4. And yes Matt, I had assumed you thought human rights were important!

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