Several days ago, the New York Times ran an op-ed written by former legal advisor to the Secretary of State John B. Bellinger III. In it, Bellinger called for swift action in ratifying international treaties. If you didn’t catch it, I highly recommend giving the essay a read.
On Thursday, the New York Times published an investigative article chronicling the dramatic increase of wealth Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s relatives have experienced during Jiabao’s tenure. Journalist David Barboza’s wrote:
Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows. A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relatives — some of whom, including his wife, have a knack for aggressive deal making — have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.
Unsurprisingly, Chinese officials did not welcome the news. Within hours, the Chinese government blocked access to the Times. According to the Times:
By 7 a.m. Friday in China, access to both the English- and Chinese-language Websites of The Times was blocked from all 31 cities in mainland China tested. The Times had posted the article in English at 4:34 p.m. on Thursday in New York (4:34 a.m. Friday in Beijing), and finished posting the article in Chinese three hours later after the translation of final edits to the English-language version.
This is not the first time the Chinese government has tangled with the Times, and in recent months, Chinese regulators have also targeted companies including Google and Bloomberg. China’s censorship and government control have prompted many Western companies, including Google, to move their business assets (i.e. web servers) outside of mainland China. Perhaps even scarier for most Americans, Human Rights Watch notes that Chinese government still ensures that their nation remains Facebook and Twitter-less.
Obviously, maintaining these Human Rights and Free Expression restrictions does not bode well for the nation’s long-term success. (In fairness, China has made some progress by recently passing their first mental health law.)
However, this issue also directly affects international business relations. In addition to trade regulations, investment policies, etc., the Chinese government’s restrictive policies on expression pose challenges for foreign companies and investors. As Western businesses, such as the New York Times, continue to explore the Chinese market, they risk damaging the integrity of their brand in exchange for access to a very large/emerging population.
For the most part, western media outlets have not succumbed to Chinese pressure and have, in my opinion, adopted a long-term strategy that hinges, at least in part, on expanding Chinese freedoms.
This struggle has not only been seen with the Times, Google, and Bloomberg, but also with corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, Time Warner, and the Walt Disney Company. For instance, media companies such as Disney finds themselves working to end piracy while attempting to introduce their characters/products to the Chinese market.
I believe, or at least hope, that Western business advancements in China will ultimately help provide Chinese citizens with greater freedoms and more transparency. As always, the greatest champion of expanding free expression and personal liberty is access to information.
I came across a blog post by Matthew Waxman, a Columbia Law professor, regarding the current Iranian nuclear issue. Waxman has written an essay featured on CNN.com entitled, “What the Cuban missile crisis teaches us about Iran.” It is definitely worth a look… Any thoughts?
I have previously blogged about a US Supreme Court case that seeks to determine whether foreign torture victims may sue their perpetrators in US Courts. The Supreme Court revisited the issue today, which also happens to be the opening day of the Court’s term. Based on the mood of several Justices (Kennedy, especially) and the US Administration’s position, I suspect that foreign claimants will not have access to US Courts. The Los Angeles Times has more info on the hearing.
As the West welcomed the ‘Arab Spring,’ dictators fell and ‘democracy’ seemed to triumph. In most cases, unfortunately, there was ample reason for pessimism. When Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed, the world saw barbarians kill a barbarian. I remember hoping Libya’s future would be brighter than it seemed. Everyone knew it would be a struggle.
The recent murder of United States Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other US Diplomats highlight the familiar conflict of international human rights – including free speech – in societies heavily influenced by religious beliefs.
Early reports suggest the Libyan protest is attributed to Muslim protests over an American made anti-Islam film. I have not seen the film, but there is no scenario where religious speech justifies such violent protests or murder.
While my thoughts are not necessarily new or original, how can we expect peace, prosperity, safety, and personal liberties when nations are ruled based on religious beliefs? As world governments face the challenge of coping with extreme beliefs and religious governments, Americans should better appreciate our “separation” of church and state.
I hope everyone pauses to remember the lives of four individuals deeply committed to their country as well as the countless other victims of religious extremism, in America and abroad.
I am in the process of upgrading my blog and debuting a new website. Ongoing software issues have made maintaining and upgrading the blog difficult; however, after the transition, everything should work much easier.
In the meantime…
The Sunday New York Times featured an article about US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s assurance that US imposed trade sanctions against Russia will soon be repealed.
The US has had sanctions in place for decades, although they are not enforced. Despite their non-enforcement, the sanctions violate World Trade Organization rules, which could allow Russia to enact harsh anti US trade policies.
The US Administration supports their repeal; however, Congress seems poised to condition the repeal on the passage of a bill, which, according to the New York Times, “would punish Russian officials accused of abusing human rights, denying them visas and freezing their assets.”
The Administration favors lifting sanctions without the human rights condition; however, the issue has gained political traction as former Governor and Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney has publicly supported the human rights legislation as a precondition to lifting sanctions.
Public international law often requires balancing factors, including pitting human rights and business/trade. Should trade regulations with foreign nations be conditional on their human rights record, and if so, how extensive should the two be intertwined?
As you may be aware, Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid deportation/trial/etc. In the Christian Science Monitor, Kantathi Suphamongkhon makes a case for how Assange could be arrested without breaking international law. “How to arrest Julian Assange without violating international law” is an interesting read.
In other news, Russia warns the United States against “violating” international law in the Syria conflict. While this is not solely a human rights issue and the United States does not have a stellar human rights record, it is always ironic to to be lectured by Russia, China, Syria, and the like. Free Pussy Riot, anyone?
Russia’s continual denial of free expression continues, and this time, it has curbed artistic expression. From the New York Times, Russian Punk Band Is Sentenced to 2 Years in Prison for Anti-Putin Stunt.