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Misreading China: The Harm of Ignoring Human Rights

On Wednesday First Lady Michelle Obama heads to China, reportedly on a mission to charm the Chinese government. She will be traveling without the president, but with her two daughters and her mother.

As Reuters describes it:

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama is expected to steer clear of controversial issues such as human rights when she visits China this week but her trip could help advance a top item on her husband's foreign policy agenda: deepening Washington's ties with Beijing.

The article goes on to cite someone who worked as an aide to former First Lady Laura Bush, praising the prospects of this ethics-lite excursion, noting that it will be good optics, and play well in China, to have Michelle Obama meet with China's first lady, drop by schools, take the kids to visit the Terra Cotta warriors, and so forth. The message is that by declining to rock the boat, Michelle will be honoring her motto of "do no harm."

While the intentions here may be good, this is a terrible misreading of China, of international politics and of America's vital place in the world. China is one of the world's worst violators of human rights, and its government holds sway over more than 1.3 billion people -- more than one-sixth of humanity. For just one of the latest cases in the news, see the Wall Street Journal's editorial on "Death in Chinese Custody," about a human rights advocate, Cao Shunli, who last September tried to fly to a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. She never made it out of the Beijing airport. She was arrested, she was denied medical treatment as her health failed, and she died in custody. For more information on the system that killed her, reports are so legion that it's hard to know where to begin -- but one place would be the State Department's latest country report on human rights practices in China, which talks about the coercion, repression, censorship, enforced disappearances, torture, coerced confessions, discrimination and more.