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.