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Hello China My Old Friend, I've Come to Lecture You Again (Editorial)

Peter Z. Scheer
Managing Editor
Peter Scheer grew up in the newspaper business, spending family vacations with his mother at newspaper editors' conferences, enjoying daycare in editorial departments and begrudgingly reviewing his father's…
Peter Z. Scheer

The State Department is once again giving China a hard time about its human rights record, a worthy cause to be sure, though the United States makes for an odd champion. What’s the saying? Those who torture should not throw stones, maybe.

Specifically, deputy spokesman Mark Toner says of prisoners still held more than 20 years after the violence in Tiananmen Square, “We renew our call for China to protect the universal human rights of all its citizens; release those who have been wrongfully detained, prosecuted, incarcerated, forcibly disappeared, or placed under house arrest; and end the ongoing harassment of human rights activists and their families.”

There are several reasons why that statement could be read as hypocritical. For one thing, the United States reserves for itself the right to forcibly disappear and indefinitely detain anyone in the world. What’s more, we just learned that the president, himself, personally has suspected terrorists, their associates and their families remotely executed by drone strike without so much as a show trial. And that’s not to mention the wars and their associated human rights complications.

The State Department’s critique is specifically aimed at China’s treatment of its dissenters, so let’s turn the mirror. With the benefit of homeland security funding, police forces across the country have militarized and turned their beanbag guns and other nonlethal weapons on the protesters squatting in parks and corralled into free speech zones.

And what about throwing people in prison for having the gall to oppose corruption in the state? Ask Tim DeChristopher, the environmental activist who was sentenced to two years in prison for participating in a public land auction, or the thousands of Occupy protesters who have been jailed and bailed in an effort to hush their voices and keep public parks clean.

You don’t even have to be an activist to go to prison in America. The U.S. contains almost one-quarter of all the world’s prisoners.

China’s human rights record is terrible (it has the second most prisoners, after the U.S., according to the International Centre for Prison Studies). Its leaders should absolutely “respect the universal rights of all its citizens.” So should ours.

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