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Foreign Affairs

Chinese Crackdown Continues Unabated

In the wake of the Arab Revolutions, the Chinese government has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that nothing even similar to the protests sweeping the Middle East appear within its boundaries. In one of their harshest crackdowns in decades, China's Communist government is rounding up hundreds of activists, bloggers, lawyers, religious figures, artists, and other dissenters-- sometimes officially arresting them, and sometimes just making these individuals disappear. The most notorious arrest thus far has been that of famed artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained for questioning at the Beijing airport earlier this month on the way to Hong Kong-- and hasn't been heard of since. Ai, whose most famous recent work was the Bird's Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics, has used his art and social networking sites like Twitter to criticize the government, most notably for the deaths of schoolchildren during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. People had long thought that Ai's fame as an artist and a poet would keep him immune from persecution; in the face of revolutions from some of the darkest areas of the world, though, that immunity has been revoked by the nervous Communist government.

Going after activists not being enough alone to calm Beijing down, the government has been rounding up dozens of churchgoers and Catholic clergy for illegal church services. Individuals are only allowed to go to church in government-sanctioned churches, but many Christians have lately been secretly holding religious ceremonies in private homes. Speaker John Boehner, after meeting with Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in criticizing Beijing for the recent crackdown. China's response has been unsurprisingly tu quoque, telling us to leave them alone and mind our own human rights record.

In light of this show of force and the Communist government's disrespect for the fundamental human rights of its citizens, it is natural that many fret about the spread of Chinese influence, power, and culture around the world. Though their expanding presence in Africa is well-noted, the Chinese influx to oft-ignored portions of South America has been relatively overlooked for some time. On the one hand, there could be some hope that the entrepreneurial spirit associated with coming to the New World might cause these Chinese immigrants to appreciate their new-found freedom and success and thus resist the tyranny of the Chinese government. On the other hand, it does not bode well for global human rights and security that China is getting cozy with some of the people south of our border, and their increasing presence may make it more difficult to rein in agitators like Chavez if ever the two decide to work together against their common competitor.

The Obama Administration ought to keep an eye on this geopolitical problem and not shrink from criticizing this barbarous crackdown on human rights in China. One major way that the United States can help advance the cause of liberty in China is by working around the firewalls and blocks to get information to the people there. Though China is struggling to keep a hold of the Internet in their country, they are so far being successful-- Ai Weiwei's disappearance has not caused too much of an uproar yet because most Chinese people don't know who he is. Internet freedom, in this day and age, is almost critical to human freedom, and we have the power to help protect that freedom so that people have access to the information that they need. It should be used.
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