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US, stop acting as guardian of human rights

By Huang Xiangyang | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2010-03-12 23:22

Anyone with an IQ above 70 could see the folly in Washington for keeping up with the annual practice of pointing fingers at the alleged human rights misdeeds in every country and region the world over except itself.

Instead of narrowing differences and improving understanding, the US Human Rights Report serves to do the opposite.

China sees it as a game of "name-and-shame" that sparks only bitter bickering rather than meaningful dialogue. As in previous years, shortly after Washington released its report on March 11, Beijing issued its own version rapping the US for its "rampant human rights abuses". The two countries' views on human rights run like parallel lines that would never cross.

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The motives behind Uncle Sam's uninvited show of chivalry in helping nations check their human rights records may not be all ill-intended. It is in the blood of Americans to play the hero. Like the comic figure Popeye the sailor, the US -- blessed with "muscular forearms" of unrivaled military and economic prowess -- believes it is obliged by moral righteousness to use its "superhuman strength" to solve all problems faced by mankind.

The mindset is best reflected in Hollywood blockbusters such as "Independence Day." For some US politicians, it is not total science fiction for a US leader to one day designate the Fourth of July as the world's common day for celebration after triumphing over whatever the US perceives as evils. The sense of moral supremacy makes it natural for Washington to assume the self-designated role as guardian of human rights.

The Chinese culture favors a "mind-your-own business" attitude and believes in the wisdom of, "Do not do undo others what you would not want done undo you." It also lays a lot of emphasis on the force of role modeling, which people find it hard to get from the US. "At least 100,000 civilians have died in Iraq since the US invasion -- and you are lecturing us on human rights?" some would contest.

The Chinese could not get the logic behind Washington's refusal to engage in reporting on human rights within the United States. If the State Department thinks such a report might be viewed as governmental propaganda by US citizens and thus lack credibility, how could it be sure people in other countries would not think alike?

All these, in addition to the lack of the concept of rights in traditional Chinese thought, as well as the humiliation China suffered from Western powers in recent history and sensitivity to national sovereignty, make human rights a touchy and sometimes inflammable issue in Sino-US relations that must be handled with care.

Like in any other country, the human-rights situation in China is far from perfect. If one is bent on digging into the dark side of this vast country, he could find all kinds of examples -- police brutality, judicial injustice and widespread infringement of migrant workers' rights -- to amplify a perception of China as a major human rights violator, "an authoritarian state" with "poor and worsening" human rights, as described in the latest US report.

Indeed, there is much room for improvement of human rights in China. Premier Wen Jiabao has repeatedly pledged that the government will work to "make people live with greater dignity". What the country needs is constructive discussion and encouragement for any progress it makes in regard of human rights. A confrontational approach and condescending attitude go only a very little way.

In human rights, China can learn from the US. But Washington can't expect to have a grateful audience while randomly passing on moral judgment on others as savior of the world. No way!


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