Every year, the U.S.-China exchange of human rights reports is one of my favorite events to observe. Not only does it invariably produce some amusing bureaucratic sniping, but of late, it’s also become one of the best front seats from which to witness the increasingly awkward dance that ensues when the U.S. tries to take on the role of human rights cop abroad.
This week, the countries traded their usual flurry of barbs: the United States censured China for being repressive, while China, indignant, hammered back against the U.S.’s own record with gusto. While the exchanges are always testy, in recent years, with the persistence of secret prisons and Guantanamo, as well as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, China’s had an especially rich vein of cases to mine. (It didn’t help that the White House formally endorsed torture as a form of official U.S. policy just days before releasing its China report.)
I’m no apologist for the Chinese regime, but whatever moral currency the U.S. could once claim on human rights has long since been squandered. (Or as the French foreign minister put it yesterday: “The magic is over.”) When a PRC bureaucrat looks at America and sees a country that incarcerates 1 out of 100 people and accounts for two-thirds of child executions worldwide, it’s no wonder the force of U.S. scrutiny seems somewhat misplaced.