During Chinese President Hu Jintao’s first visit to the White House yesterday, U.S. President George W. Bush ’68 illustrated the problem with Sino-U.S. relations. When an activist-turned-reporter interrupted Hu’s speech with cries of “Stop the torture and killings!” Hu paused briefly. Then Bush pressed him to continue his speech, telling Hu “You’re OK,” while security carried the heckler off the South Lawn.
There is much to be said for respectful dialogue, and we sympathize with Bush’s position as embarrassed host. But we sympathize more with those who are exposed daily to the darker side of Hu’s regime, which is characterized by routine arrests and internment of political and religious dissidents without trial. Bush’s talk with Hu yielded mostly economic gains, and persistent administrative unwillingness to discuss social and political issues — both in Washington and New Haven — remains a serious problem as Hu arrives here today.
Last week, we asked that Yale officials take advantage of Hu’s visit — an honor otherwise reserved for the likes of Bush, Microsoft and Boeing — to foster open, sustained dialogue on the more questionable actions of the Chinese government. Instead, this week the University obtained license to invest in China’s otherwise restricted domestic securities, making Yale one of only 40 foreign institutions with such a stake in the nation’s economic future. This marks another coup for Yale, whose virtually peerless Investments Office can gain much from this privileged status with the world’s most populous nation. But meanwhile, the University has again seemed to suggest there remains no time for questions.
Usually, there is. The Investments Office prides itself on its ability to carefully vet the actions of its investment partners, and its record is solid — though not impeccable, as Sudanese links proved earlier this year. But freedom of the press — even freedom of the search engine — are severely limited in China, where Google has complied with governmental bans on searches for keywords such as “democracy” and Yahoo! has been compelled to supply information that led to the imprisonment of Chinese journalist Shi Tao. Against this backdrop, we cannot imagine how Yale could ensure that its money is being used in a manner befitting its stated ideals.
In New Haven, Yale’s consent to on-campus protests of Hu’s visit seemed like a positive step for free expression on these issues. But with Old Campus — the approved location — completely enclosed, they are guaranteed to be out of sight and out of mind. Protests on the quad would be even less constructive than on the New Haven Green, where they had previously been relegated. While the panel discussion scheduled to follow Hu’s speech was a good start, the University has not taken initiative to develop the dialogue further.
Of course, isolation and divestment are no answer. As a self-styled ethical investor, Yale can do more with a financial voice in China. But that power brings with it a responsibility to “lux et veritas” that cannot be ignored. For the United States and for Yale, the advantages derived from its new political and economic connections to China are obvious, but both administrations seem to have forgotten that China has plenty to gain, too. If we truly see ourselves as a global partner in education as well as in business, then it is time to stop telling Hu that things are OK.