Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Pot Confronts the Kettle

According to the Al Jazeera wire sources, China has decided to reject its usual silence and speak out in reaction to the latest rant over human rights from the United States. This year China issued a response directly accusing the United States of hypocrisy:

As in previous years, the [US] State Department pointed the finger at human rights conditions in more than 190 countries and regions, including China, but avoided touching on the human rights situation in the United States.

As Al Jazeera reported, the Chinese decided to react by looking at the record:

The report took aim at a variety of issues, including civilian deaths in Iraq, child poverty, racism, mistreatment of prisoners and the place of US women in the workplace.

It said naming and shaming other countries in an annual report on human rights practices was "typical of Cold War mentality".

Cases of abuses were sourced to Western media reports, US government statistics and even groups such as Amnesty International that often find themselves taken to task by the Chinese government for their criticism of Beijing's human rights record.

This exchange simply reminds us that neither China nor the United States can speak from a position of moral authority in matters of human rights. Indeed, if we adopt those principles of regionalism that I advocated on Tuesday, there is probably not a position of moral authority by virtue of the extensive diversity of world-views across the regions. On the other hand, some level of reporting is probably necessary, just so a denizen of one region knows what to expect when going into another region. The biggest mistake that a tourist (of any nationality visiting any country) can make is to assume that, wherever one happens to be visiting, things are "just like home." So as long as these reports have explicit value, particularly where matters such as commerce are concerned, they will be produced; but, as long as they are produced, nations will use them to beat the heads of other nations while feeling better about their own moral righteousness, however illusory that righteousness may be.

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