Seven years ago Beijing won the bid to host the 2008 Olympic Summer Games. Chinese people young and old, their faces streaming with tears of elation, flooded the streets by the millions to celebrate. Many Chinese looked upon this as the moment when, after decades of struggle, their country had finally received the respect of the world.
Hosting the games has given the government a chance to showcase for international spectators the new China ¬– its gleaming skyscrapers, impressive infrastructure projects, and world-class cities aglow with light and the promise of economic prosperity. Chinese officials were equally eager to highlight for a domestic audience the hard-fought progress the government had brought to its people.
And from an economic point of view, there is much in which to take pride. China’s ability to transform a nation of more than one billion from an impoverished, undeveloped and overwhelmingly agrarian country into a powerhouse in just three decades is awe-inspiring. Since 1980 China has lifted 300 million people out of poverty; if that number made up a single country, it would be the fourth largest in the world.
Yet, for all its accomplishments, there are sides of China that Beijing isn’t eager for the world to see. Widening economic disparity is leaving the desperately poor behind. Dangerous environmental degradation poisons China’s air, earth and water – threatening the health of Chinese citizens and of our entire planet as China has become the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
Underpinning these dark sides of its explosive growth is China’s greatest shame: the ongoing lack of rights and political freedoms for the Chinese people.
There were early indications that China was prepared to improve its behavior as the Games approached. As a condition of hosting the Olympics, I’m told that Beijing committed to allowing greater press freedoms, and issued new and more relaxed rules for foreign journalists. It also promised to improve its human rights situation. I know from reading our witness’ testimony that at least one of them calls into question just how much was actually committed to at that time, but we’ll get into that.
But in any event, the hope was short-lived, as China failed to honor these commitments. Reporters Without Borders announced in its annual report on China that in 2007 the government “did everything possible to prevent the liberal press, Internet users and dissidents from expressing themselves.” A recent poll by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China found that 67 percent of foreign journalists felt China was not keeping its promise to allow freedom of reporting.
In March, the world reacted in horror at images of Chinese police arresting, beating, and killing Tibetans ¬– both monks and laymen – on the streets of Lhasa and throughout the Tibetan areas of China.
In December of last year, the Chinese authorities arrested Hu Jia, a leading fighter for human rights, health care and the environment, for allegedly “inciting to subvert state power.” His arrest was a powerful symbol that China is still determined to curb political rights.
Chinese international behavior has also been disturbing. Despite international outcry over the brutal policies of the governments in Burma and Sudan, China remains an ardent supporter of both regimes, supplying money and military support even as the people of Burma and Darfur languish in desperation from disasters both natural and man-made.
Beijing likewise has maintained its support for the brutal Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, most recently by vetoing a UN Security Council resolution that would have imposed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and travel and financial restrictions on Mugabe and other senior officials.
China’s behavior in each of these instances, and many others, is deplorable. Tomorrow this committee will mark up a resolution that calls China to account for its actions.
What does China’s behavior mean for U.S. China policy? The promotion of human rights and political freedom is one of our central goals as a nation. What of our other goals as they relate to China, such as stopping Iran’s nuclear program, enhancing energy security, or combating global warming?
Iran is a particularly pressing issue. A nuclear-armed Iran would threaten China’s interests as well as those of the United States and indeed the entire international community. But instead of seizing the opportunity to work together with the United States on this critical non-proliferation issue, Beijing has been resistant to joining us in supporting tough sanctions that could change Tehran’s current course.
We’re often told that China prizes its image in the global community, and that the Olympics are a key point of leverage. But how can we work effectively with Beijing when, even on the eve of this prestigious global showcase, it flagrantly flouts its commitments or blatantly ignores its responsibilities as an emerging global power?
There has been a bright spot in China’s behavior this year. After the terrible earthquake in Sichuan, Beijing allowed unprecedented access to journalists and gave nongovernmental organizations permission to participate in assistance and clean-up. These actions were important signs that China may be more open to the development of civil society and greater participation by the media. What role international pressure played in this is a matter of question.
The U.S.-China relationship is exceptionally complex. We have areas where we partner closely and share goals, and areas where we disagree strongly. It’s in our interest to promote positive ties with China, but our foreign policy objectives are intended to define what kind of relationship we hope to have. Human rights are front and center in the U.S.-China relationship, especially as China prepares for the Summer Games. Yet, to a great extent, China seems to have disregarded our concerns over these issues.
We have testifying before the committee today three individuals who are uniquely able to help us answer some of these questions. We hope to get a better understanding of China, its behavior, and how the United States can better achieve our goals there. These issues will be central to U.S. China policy long after the closing ceremony in Beijing on August 24.