No Place for US Homilies
by Leon Hadar
a day goes by in Washington without a smug official or a snooty
US columnist delivering a long and tedious sermon to officials in
Beijing or Moscow. The Chinese and the Russians are told sternly
by the Americans how to behave themselves, that is, if they really,
really want to become "full members" of the "international
President George W Bush down to the vice-deputy-assistant secretary
of state, not to mention the representative of this or that district
in this or that state, American officials and lawmakers seem to
believe that they have the right and the obligation to instruct
the leaders of China and Russia – and of other alleged backward
areas of the world that are not (yet) under direct US control –
in Democracy 101, Introduction to Human Rights, and other related
topics that are included in the Freedom's Guide to the Universe.
these American homilies, one would have to conclude that it is Russian
President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao – and not
Mr. Bush – who are considered today the least popular world figures
in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America, or that it
is China and Russia – and not the United States under the current
administration – that are regarded these days as the major threats
to international peace by a majority of the residents of our "international
Russia has yet to transform itself into a fully functioning market
economy and if it fails to reform its economic system and adopt
the rule of law and protect property rights, it would be punished
by western investors and would certainly not be permitted to join
the World Trade Organization (WTO).
do White House officials, with their political and business ties
to the corrupt executives of a bankrupted American energy empire
(Enron), have the moral authority to condemn the Russian government
for its dealing with the crooked heads of a mismanaged Russian energy
yes, China has a long way to go in moving to political freedom and
the adoption of democratic institutions, and the best way to affect
that change is by encouraging American businesses and NGOs to engage
at a time when the US government is being condemned for violations
of human rights, including torture, in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison
and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and has yet to punish the top officials
responsible for those actions, shouldn't Americans sound a bit less
condescending when they criticize Chinese human rights behavior?
Americans may be just irritating the Chinese and the Russians with
their rhetoric on human rights and related issues, but the United
States may be the entering a dangerous zone when it starts to tutor
them on how to handle their foreign policy.
top on the list of American guiding principles to the New Kids (well,
sort of) on the Eurasian Bloc is the need for them to be friendly
and nice to their little and helpless neighbors. Repeat after me:
Responsible big powers should avoid threatening other states in
their adjunct regions or projecting menacing hegemonic tendencies
era of outside intervention and intimidation – and certainly military
occupation – by leading regional and global powers is over. You
can't just deploy your troops beyond your borders in the name of
protecting your interests and advancing your values.
Well, that's different...
Bush certainly seemed to be in such a mood when he traveled just
recently to Russia and made stops in Latvia and Georgia, two states
that were part of the Soviet Union before it collapsed and have
traditionally been part of Russia's "near abroad," where
political and economic developments could affect its core national
interests. Or to put it differently, Latvia and Georgia as well
as other states in the Baltic and Caucus regions are what, say,
Mexico and Cuba are for the United States: a strategic backyard.
several speeches and interviews, Mr. Bush went out of his way to
admonish the Russians for their earlier occupation of the Baltic
and the Caucus. He attacked the government of Russia's only close
ally, Belarus, in words that suggested to many Russians that the
United States would seek regime change in Belarus and even include
it in the anti-Russian NATO alliance.
idea of countries helping others become free, I would hope that
would be viewed as not revolutionary, but rational foreign policy,
as decent foreign policy, as humane foreign policy," he said,
adding that "All the nations that border Russia will benefit
from the spread of democratic values, and so will Russia itself."
Bush made more critical remarks directed at Mr. Putin during his
stopover in Tbilisi, Georgia, where Russia still maintains two military
bases (which Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili wants removed)
and protects the two breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia
(which Mr. Saakashvili wants ended). "The sovereignty and territorial
integrity of Georgia must be respected by all nations," Mr.
it comes to China, it is well recognized by American officials and
pundits that signals emanating from Washington with regard to Taiwan
that challenge the mainland Chinese view that it is a "renegade
province" of China, are seen by most Chinese as a US interference
in the "internal" affairs of China.
is not surprising that continuing American criticism of Chinese
policy towards Taiwan, including a recent attempt to bring it into
a regional security context with Tokyo, coupled with suggestions
that China is adopting an aggressive military, are perceived in
Beijing as part of an American policy aimed preventing the Chinese
from asserting its role as a regional power.
anything, the recent successful Chinese diplomatic maneuvers towards
Taiwan and its continuing winning strategy of expanding its economic
and diplomatic presence in East Asia suggest that contrary to the
American criticism, it actually knows how to deal with its neighbors.
is closer than ever to fulfilling its goal of forming an East Asian
trade agreement, while Washington's chances of forming a similar
trade pact with the economies in its hemisphere is close to zero.
And it's the Americans who are now seen as pleading with the Chinese
to help them resolve the nuclear crisis with North Korea. So perhaps
it's the Americans who need to receive some guidance from the Chinese
on how to deal with your neighbors?
any case, Washington should embrace a very cautious approach when
it comes to Russia's "near abroad" and China's regional
strategic interests. One could only imagine how the US administration
would have reacted if Mr. Putin visiting Venezuela and meeting with
President Hugo Chavez had expressed support for the forces of "progress"
and indigenous Indian movements in Latin America.
if Mr. Hu during a trip to Cuba would call for the removal of US
military presence from that island. My guess is that under such
circumstances, most Americans – and rightly so – would have no patience
listening to lectures by the Russians and the Chinese.
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of the forthcoming Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan).
© 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.