Olympic torch rallying China's critics
For some years, China's boom and the war on terror have overridden human rights concerns.
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If the president does attend the ceremony, the group added, he should also visit Tibet to affirm America's commitment to religious freedom.Skip to next paragraph
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"He believes that sport is about sport and not politics. And he does have various channels through which he keeps a long running dialogue with [Chinese President] Hu [Jintao] and China on human rights," says Dr. Cha in an e-mail.
One of the those channels, he adds, is the human rights dialogue that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is reopening with the Chinese foreign minister.
The State Department also issues an annual report on the status of religious freedom and persecution in other countries. Every year since 1999, the US has designated China as "a country of particular concern" for its restrictions on religion and abuses against adherents of various faiths. In Tibet, the 2007 report said, "the level of repression remained high."
Under federal law, the US is supposed to sanction nations that are designated as "countries of particular concern." The only sanction against China, however, is one that was already in existence before the law passed: a US refusal to export crime detection equipment.
The commission has argued for some time that the government isn't employing sanctions effectively. "There are tools in the law that aren't being used," says Scott Flipse, the commission's East Asia analyst. "We'd like to see some more creative thinking in how one uses the tools of the act to target specific problems."
Protestors of all hues
Tibetans are expected to be one of the biggest protest contingents at Wednesday's San Francisco relay. Only peaceful protests are planned, says Tsering Gyurmey of the Tibetan Association of Northern California. Asked if he's worried about a backlash to the virulent protests in Paris, he says no. "It's more worrisome what's going on in Tibet than about the torch."
Other protesters are expected too, including Burmese, Vietnamese, and North Koreans, activists for Darfur and the Falun Gong, and Chinese democracy and Internet freedom advocates.
For many of these groups, it's been a long time since there's been a strong venue to raise their grievances. Many of these issues used to get at least an annual airing in the 1990s when Congress revisited China's most favored trade status.
When the yearly review of free trade agreements ended in 2000, so ended valuable debates that resulted in positive changes in China, says T. Kumar, Amnesty International's advocacy director for Asia in Washington.
"After that it became very difficult to raise human rights in a substantive manner," says Mr. Kumar. "Coupled with 9/11, the focus of the US and others was more on the war on terror than on human rights."
China bashing no more
Times have changed since those annual Congressional debates, says Susan Shirk, who served as the former deputy assistant secretary of State for US-China relations in the late '90s. The annual "bashing" of China, she argues, did nothing at the time and would now be very imprudent.
"China is such a major influence in the world today that bashing China isn't free anymore," says Ms. Shirk. "I think we need to be smart when we criticize China and think about what helps on the ground, rather than what feels good to vent about."