China, which is not known for its love of free speech, has been called hypocritical for condemning the way Japan’s schoolbooks whitewash World War II. But the world would be better off if China displayed such hypocrisy more consistently.
During a period of a few weeks starting in December 1937, the Japanese army invaded the Chinese city of Nanking, raped and tortured its people and murdered perhaps more than 300,000 Chinese civilians. The tragedy is often cited as the most horrific example of atrocities committed by Japan in its World War II campaigns in China and throughout Asia.
Nearly 70 years later the memory of these events, understandably, still stings the Chinese people. It makes sense that China’s leaders, as well as thousands of protesters, were outraged that recently approved Japanese textbooks trivialize what has become known as the Rape of Nanking by describing it as an “incident.” Though Japan has apologized repeatedly for wartime atrocities in Asia (most recently last Friday), there is no excuse for approving textbooks that sweep such realities under the rug.
But as the Asian Wall Street Journal editorialized, while Japan’s textbooks gloss over the country’s war crimes, according to Chinese textbooks, “Tiananmen Square’s 1989 peaceful demonstrations were a violent uprising; Tibet had no claim to independence when China invaded in 1951; millions of Chinese did not die during the famine caused by the Great Leap Forward…”
Given its own record on human rights, it is, indeed, audacious of China’s leaders to offer human rights lectures to another country. But as long as its leaders are in the habit of making such lectures, why should they stop with Japan? China’s leaders do not need to go back nearly 70 years to find tales of rape, torture, and mass murder against innocent civilians. Instead, its leaders can start talking about the ongoing Rape of Darfur.
For the past two years, militias armed by the Sudanese government have swept through Darfur, raping women and burning villages to the ground. They have tortured people by cutting off their ears and ripping their eyes out. While exact figures are unknown, the Coalition for International Justice last week estimated that the combined number of deaths from starvation, disease, or outright murder has reached nearly 400,000 people. An additional 2 million have been displaced by the violence.
Not only has China avoided confronting Sudan over human rights violations in Darfur, but it has stood in the way of U.S.-led efforts to put an end to the ongoing massacre. Since last year, the United States has pushed for sanctions against the Sudanese government, but China has blocked every attempt because it has billions of dollars in oil investments in Sudan.
Of course, China does not have to look all the way to Africa for opportunities to speak out on human rights. Its neighbor, North Korea, has earned its own place in what Winston Churchill once called “the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.” It is bad enough that China has stymied U.S. efforts to put pressure on Kim Jong Il’s regime over nuclear weapons. But China continues to act as an accomplice in some of the regime’s most horrific atrocities.
It is Chinese government policy to arrest North Korean refugees who have fled to safety in China, and deport them back to North Korea. After being repatriated to North Korea, the refugees are sent to prison-labor camps akin to Soviet gulags, where they are forced to work 14-hour days. The prisoners are interrogated and brutalized, and routinely die of disease and starvation.
A report by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea compiled testimony from survivors of these camps. One woman, whose husband died in detention, described how police agents beat her with sticks and smashed her head against cement walls. She was in such pain that she begged her attackers to kill her to get it over with.
Pregnant women who are sent back from China are forced to have abortions out of concern that the father could be ethnically Chinese. If women are late into their pregnancies, they are given injections to induce labor and their newborn babies are suffocated in front of them with wet towels.
Especially horrifying was the experience of a North Korean grandmother who was sent to one of the camps after being repatriated by the Chinese government. Not being fit enough for hard labor, she was forced to work in a hospital where she helped deliver seven babies.
After a delivery, a guard would rip the child out of her hands and toss the newborn into a box with a pile of other babies who were left for dead. She described what happened when babies were found to be alive after two days of neglect. According to an account of her testimony:
Even though their skin had turned yellow and their mouths blue, they still blinked their eyes. The agent came by, and seeing that two of the babies in the box were not dead yet, stabbed them with forceps at a soft spot in their skulls.
China’s leaders should be outspoken about human rights violations. But they would be doing the world a service if they didn’t confine themselves to events that happened nearly 70 years ago.
Philip Klein writes from New York.