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Business As Usual: Barack Obama Visits China

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When U.S. President Barack Obama refused to meet with the Dalai Lama in October, quite a few people were shocked . Obama was the first American president not to receive the Tibetan leader since 1991, and many were left scratching their heads as to the justification.

As Obama’s trip through Asia looms, with a visit to Beijing in China scheduled in mid-November, the reasoning for dissing the Dalai Lama becomes clearer.  Of course, one needn’t take too many mental liberties to imagine Chinese President Hu Jintao and his cronies rubbing their hands and grinning after the snub. The move certainly laid the groundwork for the visit and will help things go much smoother after all, and Mr. Obama knows that smooth is the name of the game when dealing with the country that holds most of his country’s debt.

Another way to help ease the Obama visit would be to look the other way on issues like human rights. While Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, sure talked a tough game against Chinese rights abuses on the campaign trail, it looks like the administration’s approach now is to not interfere with what the Chinese government is up to on that front.

It’s clear that Beijing is moving backwards on human rights, continuing the country’s wicked policies of imprisoning critics, imposing internet and press censorship, executing Tibetans accused of taking part in protests in March of 2008, and banning all bad news during times in which global attention is fixated on China, as they did during the Olympics with the tainted milk scandal.

That the United States should pursue a policy of looking the other way with a country, any country, when discussing economic ties and strong relationships isn’t surprising. It is, after all, part and parcel of the game of global politics. When running for office, politicians talk a big game to get all the human rights rubes on their side, but when reality sets in, it’s business as usual.

The Obama visit to China is focused largely on strategic issues, but China’s obscene record on rights contaminates just about every word of the discussion.  The administration hopes to talk to China about climate change, for instance, but this conversation could prove to be in vain if China continues to censor environmental activists and whistleblowers while clouding records for pollution and environmental damage.

Mr. Obama is also slated to raise the issues of North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan. While China once again will doubtlessly tout their almost pointless accomplishment of bringing North Korea to the table on nuclear talks, the United States will trumpet its own hard-line position in the hope of getting more Chinese support on Iran. With China’s designs on pursuing narrow national interests at the forefront of every aspect of these talks, it’s unlikely that America will get what it seeks.

China does, in just about every sense of it, have America over the barrel. There is a sense that the Obama administration will seek to play it almost coy with the Chinese, offering concessions, such as a gentle, pathetic “rebuke” on human rights abuses for media’s sake, in order to soothingly pacify Jintao and Co.

But with a lack of public denunciation and without a clear message, the Obama visit won’t bear much fruit for human rights. It will be yet another moment of fine oral opportunity, but it will ultimately lack the substance China’s unremitting, arrogant, despicable violations of human rights demands.

In the end, sadly but not surprisingly, there’s no reason to expect anything but business as usual out of Barack Obama’s first visit to China as president . With the Nobel Peace Prize winner suggesting to the U.N. that democracy and human rights are “essential” to America’s core goals, it’s too bad that he will once again prove that little has changed in the White House after all.

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About Jordan Richardson

  • NIce piece, Jordan, and hope all is well with you!

  • hotaruSTAR16

    It’s not disappointing that politics really is just business, but rather it’s the way politicians decide to go about doing business that’s upsetting. I hope President Obama will address human rights issues in China on his visit. Have you read Asia Chronicle? The site provides in-depth analyses on the situations facing China. Worth a read I think. http://www.asiachroniclenews.com

  • Zedd


    The US just left the dark ages a few decades ago with regards to human rights.

    Lets not get silly.

  • Zedd,

    The US left the dark ages? When? Let’s not get silly…

  • Thank you for this – great post. We have a piece up now ‘No Place Like Home?’ that covers Dharamsala, small town that is home Tibetan exiles & may provide further insight on the subject – http://bit.ly/1gECgR


  • Jordan Richardson

    Thanks, Ulara.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Jordan –

    The first thing to realize when discussing what other countries should and should not do is they are not the United States, and their people are not American.

    The Rabid Right condemned President Obama for not making public comments about the rioting in Iran earlier this year…but Obama’s non-action was precisely the right course of action. Why?

    It’s easy. If another country publicly says that America’s doing the wrong thing, we normally tell them to go take a hike – so why should we expect other countries to do what we think they should do? If President Obama had spoken for the Iranian rioters and against the Iranian government, Ahmedinajad would certainly have used that against the rioters i.e. “See how the imperialist Americans are trying to take over our country?”

    So it goes with China. What the Chinese have done to the Uighurs in Xinjiang province (and of course to the Tibetans) is wrong – but if our government publicly condemns it, such language would be used by the Chinese government to ‘prove’ to their people how we’re meddling with their internal politics.

    There’s an old saying – “You draw more flies with honey than with vinegar.” That is the essence of diplomacy. You don’t win the hearts and minds of the people of other countries by telling them how terrible their government is. You do it by kindness, by keeping to the high road.

    Do not confuse kindness with weakness – for kindness is how to keep one’s friends close, and also to keep one’s enemies closer.

  • All that sounds nice, Glenn – playing footsie with all the shit in the world. I guess that means that Obama gets to crap on us, huh – and you approve?

    Slick double-standard there. I don’t give a fuck about the rights of the damned Arabs, Glenn. The point is that you are willing to defend a double standard that hurts my people – after we have helped you. The Arabs only want to murder you off. That is all your “high road” gets you. Dead Americans.

    The question is this, Glenn. If you shit on us, why shouldn’t we blow up your embassies and consulates? If you shit on us, why shouldn’t we kill you? The Arabs do it and you want to kiss their asses. So, if we kill you, maybe you’ll start to kiss our asses too? Hey! What’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander.

    Or is it that if it’s a Jew-goose, he’s cooked no matter what he does?

    In that case, maybe I shouldn’t talk about nuking Tehran, Glenn. Maybe a sub with a few missiles to nuke Philly, for example, would be more appropriate?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Do you know the difference between a bully and a leader?

    One follows a slaver because one must do so or else. One follows a leader because one wants to.

    Now, if a man see a danger to a bully, is that man going to warn that bully? Is that man going to help him if he’s down? Probably not.

    But if a man happens to like and admire his leader, if that man sees a danger to his leader, is that man going to warn him? Is that man going to help his leader if he’s down? Probably.

    I’m sorry that you feel that diplomacy has no real place in the world, because diplomacy is one of the few things that truly separate us from the animals.

  • Jordan Richardson

    I don’t buy it, Glenn. Obama is going to China and through Asia with the express goal of achieving greater business relations. He is, by all accounts, ignoring human rights violations in favour of achieving corporate/business goals.

    Comparing China and Iran is not particularly the best way to go about this argument, as the anti-American sentiment in Iran has no equal in China. On the contrary, the Chinese are exceedingly receptive of American influence and American businesses.

    This is not “diplomacy,” Glenn. This is opportunity, plain and simple. Obama is taking the exact same path his predecessors have taken on human rights abuses around the world. He is proving to the Tibetans, to the environmental activists, to the human rights activists (both in China and elsewhere), that NOTHING is more important to the United States than business and economic ties.

  • Jordan Richardson

    The first thing to realize when discussing what other countries should and should not do is they are not the United States, and their people are not American.

    Actually, the first thing to realize is that the United States readily assigns condemnation to easy targets around the world and criticizes injustice constantly when it is not potentially invoking the ire of an economic ally/frenemy.

    If there’s something to be gained, America is really, really good at turning the other way on human rights abuses. And if we’re really lucky, the U.S. of A. might even install a useful dictator or two to help smooth the transition to economic glory.

    As much as you want to defend Obama on this Glenn, I think you have to face the reality that, when it comes to foreign policy, he is largely upholding America’s status quo of opportunity at any and all costs.

    You’re right: people in other countries are not American. That makes them less valuable.

  • Clavos

    We ARE animals.

    Opposable thumbs. Everything else is window dressing.

  • Baronius

    Really good article, Jordan.