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Hao Wu and the Upcoming US-China Summit
Why Bush Is Unfit to Speak for the Wrongfully Imprisoned

China Daily reported on March 23rd that China and the United States have set April 20 as a summit date at the White House between Gerge Bush and Chinese president Hu Jintao, last seen together laughing it up together at the United Nations in September. Will Hao Wu be on Bush’s mind? From Rebecca McKinnon at Global Voices, one of the treasures of the blog world: “Hao Wu (Chinese name: 吴皓 ), a Chinese documentary filmmaker who lived in the U.S. between 1992 and 2004, was detained by the Beijing division of China ’s State Security Bureau on the afternoon of Wednesday, Febuary 22, 2006. On that afternoon, Hao had met in Beijing with a congregation of a Christian church not recognized by the Chinese government, as part of the filming of his next documentary.” (Read the rest of Hao’s story here…)

It’s been heartening to see a minor swell of voices on Hao’s behalf here and there, but it seems such a brazen arrest should garner more than 50-odd daily hits, on average, on the barometer of bloggers’ attention since news of his arrest finally got out. The hits are diminishing. Meanwhile China and the United States have been busy bashing each other in preparation for that summit. Condoleezza Rice, a reincarnated Kissinger with a penchant for Brahms, couldn’t pass up a chance on her Australian hop earlier this month to give Robert Kaplan (who looks at China the way, say, Israel looks at Hamas), orgasmic joys: “ I think all of us in the region,” Rice said, “particularly those of us who are longstanding allies, have a joint responsibility and obligation to try and produce conditions in which the rise of China will be a positive force in international politics, not a negative force.” The assumption, of course, and official American national policy according to the latest version of the National Security Strategy, which warns China against “old ways of thinking and acting,” while the Chinese president promised, in Reaganesque tones, a military buildup and sent his propagandizing troops bashing back at the United States with a human rights “report” of its own about America.

Of course these days it isn’t difficult to compare the United States, at least in fragments and headlocks, to good old ways of East German spying, Gulag dungeons and Syrian torture rooms. Which will make Bush’s job of speaking human rights to Hu Jintao on April 20 a touch difficult. Credibility is not the Lord and Savior president’s strong suit. Asking for the release of an unjustly held blogger while hundreds of non-persons languish at Guantanamo, and thousands of lesser-known serial numbers languish in the little archipelago of American prisons around the world, will make Bush sound more like a People’s Daily editorial than a free world leader living up to his country’s moral powers. Those powers are fallen. But Bush claim on representing America is itself increasingly and unequivocally diminished. Representing 36 percent of the people, if that, is not exactly the sort of badge that ranks with the seal of the United States.

What we’re seeing now is an opening for public power—the power of opinion, of the streets (ridiculously deficient, if the mediocre protests marking the third anniversary of the war are any sign), of revulsion to do what the president no longer can, what he hasn’t been willing to do in five years of, as likes to put it, mis-leadership. That brings us back to Hao Wu. It isn’t Bush who’s going to help him, although Wu’s documentary dalliance with a religious subject might win him a brief audience with what’s glimmering in Bush’s conscience. Wu’s hope is in a vivid (and livid) public building up and keeping up the pressure, as it has attempted to do in the blogosphere, as it should continue to do to pull Wu’s story out into the mainstream and to the forefront of the upcoming talks between China and the United States: Here’s a month’s opportunities to set the stage for a meaningful protest on behalf of a man who represents free and critical expression, and democratic sentiment—those ideals Bush is so fond of quoting and preaching. Those who’d love to see a ramped up confrontational attitude toward China (as al-Qaeda wears thin) might jump on the opportunism of speaking up for the likes of Hao Wu, but with the wrong motives in mind.

Hao’s arrest isn’t an opportunity to show up China’s foreign policy, the arrest having nothing to do with China’s outlook abroad; to the contrary. It’s traditional repression, showing up China where it’s most vulnerable: It has an image to protect, or at least to nurture. It doesn’t want to be seen as more of a reconstructed bear than it needs to be, domestically, to keep its billion-footed beast of a nation-state together. It can be publicly pressured without being humiliated. The pleas on Hao’s behalf, hinged purely on principles of free expression and liberty, can apply that pressure without bleeding into the muck of foreign policy point-scoring. The irony is that the least Bush and his administration do on behalf of Hao, the better: this is the public’s battle, not just in the United States, the public’s battle to win — or lose, if the opportunists get in on the campaign. Meanwhile, Hao Wu languishes somewhere in a Chinese prison, no differently than men in American custody on at least two, probably four, continents.

What dank days for liberty. Cherish yours.

Pierre Tristam is an editorial writer and columnist at the Daytona Beach News-Journal, and editor of Candide's Notebooks. email:


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