- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

Communist China’s human-rights situation has not changed appreciably in the last year. Dissidents remain imprisoned, a clique of Communist Party overlords still rules, there is no freedom of speech or press and no real elections. And yet, in this year of the Beijing Olympics and a communist charm offensive, the State Department has managed to upgrade China in this year’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The reports, released Thursday, relieve China of its rightful place among the world’s worst abusers and now rank it one notch up from human-rights oblivion. This is a travesty. Not only is the upgrade unwarranted by the facts. But it makes a mockery of State’s premise in issuing these reports, which is to grade other countries on the merits, without political consideration.

Communist China is now considered to be among “authoritarian countries that are undergoing economic reform [and] have experienced rapid social change but have not undertaken democratic political reform and continue to deny their citizens basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Its “overall human rights record remains poor.” These judgments are true enough as generic descriptions of contemporary Communist China. But they sidestep the question of whether China is among the handful of the world’s worst violators. It is. Half a million or more prisoners populate China’s re-education camps and as many as 200 activists imprisoned in the wake of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre will soon enter their third decade of imprisonment, to cite just two egregious examples. Last year, the State Department recognized this world-class repression by including China, deservedly, alongside North Korea, Cuba and Iran as a world-beating tyranny. This time, China is absent. It is replaced by Syria and Uzbekistan.

What happened? We surmise that the need to prevent an embarrassment for President Bush, who is headed to Beijing this summer to attend the 2008 Olympics, prevailed. The possibility of enhanced human-rights “dialogue,” which China has promised, probably also factored. Foggy Bottom left itself the trappings of an intellectual defense with the above critical language, which it can cite as it argues that no backsliding has occurred.

But the practical consequences are clear. Communist China gains a chit in a public-relations offensive to improve its image as a signal repressor of its own people. President Bush is spared awkward questions about standing on the soil of country which his own State Department says is every bit as repressive as North Korea. And the striped-pants set at Foggy Bottom can tout “incremental progress” amid “ongoing efforts.”

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