For the second time this year, Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to arrive at Yale. And although the administration has not announced plans to cancel classes this time — as was the plan before Hurricane Katrina convinced Hu to postpone his U.S. visit last September — the brief statements of federal security forces suggest that protests timed to coincide with Hu’s visit to Sprague Hall will be relegated to the New Haven Green.
Security concerns are legitimate, of course, and we fully expect Hu to be afforded the same safety measures that have protected Kofi Annan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush during their respective visits to Yale. With this in mind, details of road closures and available points of assembly have remained limited, and reasonably so. But public complaint against the actions of Hu’s government is similarly reasonable, and while Sprague is only a block away, anyone protesting from the Green will assuredly be out of sight and out of mind.
In the meantime, the Yale administration’s continued reluctance to sponsor dialogue on such issues leaves Hu’s visit, on some levels, an open challenge to the guiding principles of the University. Last fall, the News urged faculty and administrators to help concerned students foment an open, sustained debate regarding the questionable actions of Hu’s government — a state characterized by repression of personal freedoms and contempt for anti-torture regulations. They have not.
To be sure, the leader of China is an ally well worth courting. His visit to Yale remains a triumph particularly for University President Richard Levin, who has shrewdly dedicated himself to forging connections with the world’s most populous nation. But that nation’s abysmal human rights record is no secret. In a letter sent to President Bush last week, Human Rights Watch called the Chinese human rights record “grim” and asserted that it has only deteriorated since the fall.
Hu governs a country that is rapidly gaining influence on the world stage. As its power has waxed, however, its tolerance and freedom of expression have waned. In neglecting to address this reality, Yale officials contradict the most basic of the University’s stated ideals.
By the same token, a day of student protests at Yale is unlikely to convince Hu to reform his government from the ground up, especially when compared to the opportunities greater contact and exchange of education with China seem to offer. But with regard to the nation’s actions and influence, we believe the hundreds of faculty and students that Levin has asserted have “experience” in China are more than capable of maintaining a knowledgeable and constructive dialogue beyond that promised at the panel discussion scheduled to follow Hu’s speech. While the assembled panel seems ideal to respond immediately on the day, we maintain that the discussion should neither begin nor end there.
In relegating peaceable assembly to a laughable distance — outside of Yale’s campus — the security governing Hu’s visit to Yale has limited the campus’s ability to answer the most troubling questions that his trip has raised. We ask that all members of the Yale community work to answer those questions sooner rather than later.