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Belmont Club

Helplessly hoping

February 20th, 2009 - 9:59 pm

Following on news that the Obama Administration is going to participate in preparations for the Durban Conference comes a report from AFP quoting Hillary Clinton as saying that human rights concerns won’t hinder relations with China.

Paying her first visit to Asia as the top US diplomat, Clinton said the United States would continue to press China on long-standing US concerns over human rights such as its rule over Tibet.

“But our pressing on those issues can’t interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis,” Clinton told reporters in Seoul just before leaving for Beijing.

So why are the Chinese dissidents worth less than the Gazans? We guess the answer and it saddens us. Left to themselves politicians have the tendency to take up causes which can produce money flows. Reparations for slavery, oil money, Chinese investments — these are good leads. What have they to do with human rights in principle? Everything and nothing. To the extent that “human rights” are a claim on political attention and clout, they follow the sad and predictable pattern of human history. The people with the most rights are those whose plight can create the most lucrative political play. What distinguishes Middle Passage slavery from all other forms is there’s money in it. That Tibet is beautiful, ancient and exalted don’t matter none. What matters is mazooma; cash on the barrel — and it ain’t got none of that.

Human society is not going to change any time soon. In a world where ideals are only roughly approximated, it is the occasional triumph of justice that provides the surprise. As a species we are sustained in our history by the one unselfish act in a thousand sordid ones. History is a catalogue of dark days occasonally punctuated by joy only because it can’t be locked down. The role of publics is to provide randomness: to supply the outbreak of heroism and generosity that the great can never be counted on to provide.

T. Kumar of Amnesty International USA said the global rights lobby was “shocked and extremely disappointed” by Clinton’s remarks.

He ought not to be. What was surprising was that he hoped in Hillary Clinton. Those in China who want their freedom must fight on to hope on. And when they get it, it won’t be a “gift” from Hillary Rodham Clinton. It will be entirely theirs.

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