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Chinese President's United Nations speech rife with hypocrisy

By Michael Hughes,
September 18, 2009

As Chinese President Hu Jintao addressed the United Nations and had the gall to put forward an ironic four-point proposal for making the world a more lovely and harmonious place to live - a speech that also included sermonizing on free trade and climate change - the U.S. Steelworkers Union filed a case for imposing duties on coated paper imports from both China and India, and a member of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming mocked Hu’s message about China’s environmental plan as “no real announcement at all.” Most striking was Mr. Hu's call for world peace and tolerance, considering China's egregious human rights record, including Beijing's most recent wrongful imprisonment of a political activist earlier this summer.

The Chinese President’s four-point proposal called for the international community to work together to bring about peace and prosperity that encompassed the following:

I. Security. Hu stated that the countries of the world should work together to advance the common security of mankind. He stressed that all should embrace a “new security thinking” of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination.

Security is not a zero-sum game, and there is no isolated or absolute security. While maintaining one's own national security, we should also respect the security concerns of other countries and advance the common security of mankind.

II. Free Trade. Hu implored the international community to take a more “holistic” approach to economic development and promoting common prosperity. He said that responsible measures should be taken to counter the financial crisis, but that government intervention should not constrain the free market. The Chinese President clearly laid out his opposition to protectionism, which was a comment aimed specifically at the United States and President Obama.

Mr. Hu met with Obama on Tuesday and urged the U.S. President to resist levying duties on more Chinese products, a meeting that comes on the heels of a controversial decision by the U.S. to invoke provisions of an existing trade agreement and impose duties on Chinese tire imports. The United Steelworkers filed the tire protection petition earlier this year, citing that Chinese tire imports had tripled from 2004 to 2008 and cost more than 5,000 U.S. jobs.

One day after Hu’s plea to Obama and the same day he delivered his four-point proposal, the Steelworkers filed their protectionist petition on coated paper and were joined by paper manufacturers NewPage Corp of Miamisburg, Ohio; Appleton Coated LLC of Kimberly, Wisconsin; and Sappi Fine Paper North America of Boston, Massachusetts. The steelworkers union is taking the lead in a battle against what they perceive as unfair foreign trade practices which they claim have led to the loss of millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs. Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said in a statement:

Neither the companies nor the union will tolerate being obliterated without asking our government to investigate and enforce the rules of fair trade.

III. Climate Change. According to the top Republican on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, President Hu simply played lip service when he said the international community should cooperate to protect the environment. While the UN audience began clapping after Hu's discourse, back in the U.S. the Wisconsin lawmaker said:

There is only one thing China, India and other nations can say that will have a significant impact on the upcoming U.N. climate change talks in Copenhagen, and that is: ‘We will join developed countries in legally binding emission cuts. ' Anything short of that commitment is just window dressing. While China’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases should be encouraged and commended, let’s not fool ourselves into believing today’s announcement comes close to addressing the real issues that need to be confronted during December’s climate talks.

IV. Tolerance. Mr. Hu’s final point was an interesting one about mutual tolerance, as he advocated that the international community should acknowledge differences in cultural tradition, social values and systems, and respect the right of all countries to independently choose their "development paths". This statement seemed like a veiled shot to the U.S. and its Western allies subtly asking them to stay out of the affairs of other countries like Iran. The Chinese President was most likely referring to the west’s recent criticism of Iran’s alleged free elections, and the U.S. objective of placing sanctions on Iran for their nuclear ambitions. During their meeting a day ago, Mr. Obama pressed Hu for assistance in dealing with both Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs.

Although the Chinese President delivered a marvelous speech about world peace and mutual respect, China should first focus on cleaning up their side of the street, considering their recent discrimination against China’s ethnic minorities that caused riots earlier this summer in the Xinjiang region, as well as in Tibet last year. The U.S. condemned China’s human rights record yesterday and U.S. diplomat Douglas M. Griffiths called for the Chinese authorities to respect the safety and legal rights of all its citizens, and make efforts to find a solution to legitimate grievances.

Griffiths scolding comes in light of Beijing’s recent release of political prisoner Xu Zhiyong, a moderate activist who was imprisoned by the Chinese government for three weeks on trumped up tax evasion charges. Zhiyong was a defense attorney who fought to protect the rights of Chinese citizens, and played a role in some major high-profile cases including representing parents whose babies had been sickened last year by tainted infant formula.

It’s just fine for President Hu to preach harmony, peace and tolerance in an eloquent speech before world leaders, so long as he comes to believe and takes action in accordance with the notion that harmony, peace and tolerance begin at home.

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