Hu Should Consider China's Human Rights Record Before Lecturing U.S.

Hu Jintao called the U.S.-led monetary system a “product of the past."

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Most countries don’t like being lectured by foreigners, although sometimes a well-worded criticism from outside sources is worth heeding. One wishes that the United States, for example, had paid a bit more attention to the skepticism and outright opposition to the Iraq War expressed by the international community. That would have been a better response than demonizing the French, including by re-naming the (Belgian-invented) French fries as “Freedom Fries” in Capitol restaurants.

But when it comes to China and its leader, Hu Jintao, Americans are justified in ignoring the lecture--not because of the substance, but the source.

[See photos of the White House state dinner for China's Hu Jintao.]

Hu, in a statement to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, called the U.S.-led monetary system a “product of the past,” and suggested that China, whose economic power is growing steadily, would continue to seek to internationalize its own currency. Hu also criticized, albeit in a roundabout way, the Fed’s activity to keep long-term interest rates low.

Now, the United States might deserve a little verbal spanking for the way we’ve run our economy. True, the country was high on an ether-like economy for awhile. Americans individually and as a nation have been relying way too much on credit (and China owns a great deal of our debt). But with its appalling record on human rights, China is in no position to throw stones of any color.

[Take the poll: Should Obama push China harder on human rights?]

Political repression, punishment of dissidents, the one-child policy--the list of human rights grievances against China is long. Of course, many Chinese might not know about international criticism, since the Asian nation’s control of the press meant that the coverage of Hu’s visit to Washington exempted questions from the White House press corps about China’s human rights abuses.

It’s not uncommon for leaders under fire to try to deflect attacks. When President Bush was in Bratislava, Slovakia in 2005, Russian reporters peppered the U.S. president with sharply critical questions about the Iraq War, Guantanamo, and the Abu Ghraib prison abuses. That left then-President (now prime minister) Vladimir Putin looking a bit less offensive in comparison. And while the United States has much to answer about, in terms of Iraq and its associated scandals, the transgressions pale in comparison to what Putin’s Russia has done to its citizens in the arenas of human rights and freedoms.

Hu might have had a point. But he was not the right messenger.

  • See photos from the White House state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao.
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