Overall, Obama appears to be striking the right balance between seeking improved business ties between China and calling for human rights changes. But Congress could sabotage things; some members of the Foreign Affairs committee were apparently outraged that Hu Jin-tao would be welcomed as a head of state to the U.S.: he should be “held accountable for his crimes” at the Hague, the Wall Street Journal quoted Rep. Chris Smith, R., N.J. as saying; China’s hidden agenda is “world domination”, according to Rep. Albio Sires, D., N.J.
What’s frustrating about these comments is they actually hurt the likelihood of reform in China. The Chinese remain exquisitely sensitive to any appearance of foreign “meddling” in their affairs, to say nothing of causing one of their senior officials to lose face. They do best in give-and-take, pragmatic discussions in back rooms. That’s something Obama seems to understand.
That doesn’t excuse the jailing of Nobel prize recipient Liu Xiaobo and other human rights abuses. It’s a question of whether we want results or just to feel self-righteous. If the Chinese feel they can gain economically by loosening the political reins, they may do so.
It would be easy to dismiss today’s comments as bombast from fringe congressmen. But if the economy continues to stagger and China’s to prosper, there will likely be a lot more of it. China is not the Evil Empire. If we try to make it one, we will hurt ourselves as well as them.