British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently told an interviewer it took him “about 30 minutes” to formulate his government’s response to the Sept. 11 tragedy, a response which showcases the enduring solidarity between the American and English peoples.
In the past month and a half, Americans have also received strong expressions of sympathy and support from less expected quarters. The Russian and Chinese governments, for example, have cast their usual anti-imperialist rhetoric aside, and are lending tacit assent to the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan.
President Bush has rightly thanked our allies for standing by America in a time of great peril.
But he must not allow any country to exploit the current situation for domestic political purposes. Indeed, given their past human rights records, we have reason to suspect that the Russian and Chinese governments might seek to do precisely that, perhaps by discreetly linking support for future American military action to our silence on human rights violations.
China, for example, hopes we will acquiesce to its violent suppression of Muslim Uighur separatists in westernmost Xinjiang province. There, as in other regions of the country, like Tibet, the Chinese government has cracked down on dissent, curtailed religious freedom, and instituted policies of forced assimilation.
By justifying the repression to President Bush with anti-terrorist terminology — as Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin did last weekend — Beijing is no doubt invoking a quid pro quo.
I hope President Bush won’t fall for it. He already has an admirable record on China policy. His declaration this spring that America would do “whatever it takes” to defend Taiwan, coming nearly a year after that nation voted the long-ruling Guomindang out of power, constituted a bold defense of a vibrant democracy.
And while visiting Shanghai last week, the President reminded Jiang Zemin that the global anti-terrorist campaign “must never be an excuse to persecute minorities.”
Unfortunately, he left it at that. Perhaps he did not want to seem ungrateful to his Chinese hosts, who are acceding to an American military presence in their own backyard, a situation with which Jiang and his comrades are surely not comfortable. After all, when their main rival, the Soviet Union, invaded Afghanistan twenty years ago, the Chinese leadership lent its firm backing to the Afghan Mujahedeen. They probably do not want their “strategic competitor” — to borrow Bush’s old term for China — at their doorstep.
Nevertheless, our role in Afghanistan, in my opinion, is justified. We were violently attacked on our own soil.
As such, we have the right to retaliate against al Qaeda and the Taliban, as long as we do not intentionally target civilians. I firmly believe America is doing the world a service by challenging murderers like Osama Bin Laden and his cronies.
China’s support, while appreciated and necessary from a diplomatic perspective, does not confer additional moral authority on our cause.
In sum, President Bush should forcefully condemn the Chinese government if evidence of an intensified crackdown in Xinjiang or anywhere else in the country emerges. This should be an unwavering policy, regardless of the geopolitical implications. Human rights are more important than China’s support for our anti-terrorist coalition, and they supersede concerns over a growing American unilateralism.
We should follow a similar line in our dealings with Russia.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has proven himself a great friend to America in this, our hour of need. However, we must not look the other way if his government — invoking the pretext of fighting terrorism — begins again to raze entire Chechen villages. Massive repression is never acceptable, and there can be no accommodation of genocide.
The burdens placed upon our country as we rebuild after Sept. 11 and wage war in Afghanistan are heavy. Still, the United States remains a great nation because of its commitment to democracy, pluralism, and human rights. We cannot allow such sacred commitments to wane.
Matthew Nickson is a junior in Berkeley College.