Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Andre Vltchek or China Daily (again) misses the point

Got this from a China Daily article, so proceed with caution, but...

[Andre] Vltchek, who is also a novelist and political analyst, has been discovering places that are rarely covered by the mainstream Western media, and exposing disparities in today's world.

One of his articles, titled The West Perfecting its Techniques to Hurt China, was recently translated and published in People's Daily, a major Chinese newspaper.

"The West has absolutely no interest in human rights in China or anywhere else. How could it, considering that it is violating them on basically all continents, worldwide?" he wrote in the commentary posted a year ago on Znet, a website focusing on politics from a left-wing perspective.

I've said this in various ways on this blog before, but I'll say it again, this time in numbered points:

1. Whether "the West" (western governments) has violated human rights is immaterial to pretty much anything. It simply DOES NOT MATTER. If you're a tenant in rural China who gets relocated because some cadre wants to build a hotel (or if you're a tenant in the heart of Beijing...), whether or not America waterboarded prisoners has absolutely no relevance whatsoever.

Similarly, whether western governments care or don't care about China's human rights doesn't matter either. See above. The idealist thinks that perhaps a country like the U.S. could push China to [fill-in-the-blank], but that's about as likely as China convincing Obama to close Gitmo. In other words, if change happens, it won't be because of a foreign diplomat.

2. There are a lot of people in a lot of places who take governments to task for abuses of human rights. Why don't we talk about the efforts of these civilians instead of dancing around government press releases and diplomatic talk? Does anyone actually find government officials interesting? Their job is to maintain holding patterns, and if we expect anything else from them, we're really giving them too much credit. A more interesting and telling question is, proportionally, are there more or fewer human rights lobbyists in China than there are in, say, the U.S.? Granted, it's not that interesting a question, and we can go a lot deeper, but at least it's not the classic red herring that Chinese commentators seem so fond of: "Because the West is flawed, we're allowed to be flawed as well."

(By the way, I think this is why I took so much issue with China Daily's Chen Weihua in my previous post, who seems to think that the blanket argument "West is flawed" is JUSTIFICATION for China's misgivings (in this case, censorship of media). It's so juvenile: Mommy, but Jimmy's doing it too! To say nothing of the fact that Chen was wrong in his premise -- his premise, I think, being that the West doesn't care about the West's own problems; Westerners do care -- quite a lot, actually. And sometimes an individual who happens to live "over there" turns his or her eye to China, and all of a sudden the natives -- such as Weihua -- flip their shit.)

3. People's fixation -- by "people" I don't specifically mean Vltchek here, even though he wrote about it -- with what "the West" or, more generally, "non-Chinese people" think about China is stupid. It's, again, immaterial to anything. It leads to straw man arguments and non sequiturs and various other logical fallacies that we can generally label "stupid."

But, then again -- and you know this already -- it's part of the country's long process of maturation. China can build skyscrapers and luxury malls and turn a fishing village into a 10-million-strong metroplex within a couple of decades, but changing attitudes and mindsets, well -- no shortcut there.

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