“The Forbidden Citizen”

A Sophie Richardson has an article in Foreign Policy about why 2012 will be a rough year for Chinese dissidents. After making her case, she concludes:

So it’s time to change the game plan.

The United States and other countries should tell the Chinese government that it cannot dictate who its leaders meet. U.S. President Barack Obama should welcome into the White House activists like Yu Jie or Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer prior to the visit in February of China’s likely next president, Xi Jinping, underscoring the importance of free speech and responsible civil dissent. Such gestures make America’s rhetorical commitments to human rights manifest.

Governments have to consistently find — and use — their voice on rights. Officials from at least two EU member states were passing through Hangzhou when the poet Zhu Yufu’s sentence was announced. Neither said a word publicly, missing a perfect opportunity to manifest these countries’ stated bedrock commitment to human rights. Perhaps most important, governments need to make the defense of the freedom of expression in China an inescapable topic of all public and private discussions with Chinese officials. Doing so will help offer a degree of protection for individuals and demonstrate a seriousness of purpose that is difficult for Beijing to ignore.

In many countries, political transitions entail policy innovation, vigorous debate, and competition for popular support in elections. This will manifestly not be the case in China this year, and some people there will suffer terribly for merely pointing out this reality. Western governments should not be shy in noting the same. Failure to recognize the efforts of those who struggle daily to hold the Chinese government to the letter of the law and to exercise their rights only increases Beijing’s sense of entitlement and impunity. It’s already been a long year for dissidents in China — and it’s only been a month. Let’s not make it worse for them.

I don’t know how much of an impact the United States and EU are willing (or able) to make, but any effort would be better than what they’re putting in now. No, China is not willing to destroy its economic ties with major nations over a Dalai Lama or Rebiya Kadeer visit or a Liu Xiaobo mention, and it’s time to stop using that as an excuse for silence.

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