Biden Addresses Chinese on Human Rights


On the last day of his five-day visit to China, Vice President Joe Biden brought up the highly sensitive issue of human rights as he also sought to assure the Chinese about the security of their huge holdings of US dollars. China is the US’s biggest foreign creditor, holding $1 trillion in US debt and, following the downgrading of the US’s AAA credit rating to AA+ by Standard & Poor’s, the Chinese government reacted with angry criticism of the US for its “addiction to debt.” Biden also said that the rise of China as a global power was “a positive development for the US and the world as a whole,” says the BBC.

Biden gave a speech to about 400 people at Sichuan University in Chengdu in the southwest of China and also visited the city of Dujiangyan, where a May 12, 2008 earthquake registering 8.0 on the Richter scale left 86,000 dead or missing including thousands of students who died in poorly built schools. A New York Times article about this visit offered pointed, if somewhat veiled, criticism of China for its highly troubling record on human rights abuses.

Biden spoke at Qingchengshan High School which, says China’s official news agency Xinhua, was “flattened” in the earthquake. The New York Times says that the high school was not, though, built with “tofu construction,” the phrase the Chinese use to describe the buildings that collapsed with thousands of children in them. Officials says that 5,335 students died. Following the disaster, the Chinese government also harshly suppressed parents demanding justice in a crackdown that, says the New York Times, was “one of the worst abuses of human rights in recent years.” Some parents who joined peaceful protests in front of government offices were instead taken away by police and arrested:

And parents in China are increasingly asking whether a child’s right to a safe life should be considered a human right, universal to all and somehow guaranteed by the government. Since the collapsed schools first galvanized that sentiment, scare after scare has followed. In the fall of 2008, news spread of a tainted milk scandal — six infants had died and 300,000 had fallen ill — and of the government scramble to buy off or detain angry parents. In the spring of 2010, a series of unrelated school stabbings prompted questions about the ability of officials to ensure security at schools. This year, food safety is a bigger issue than ever before.

“But of course we’re angry,” Tian Wenyao, the mother of a 12-year-old boy who died in the collapse of Xinjian Primary School here in Dujiangyan, said in June 2008. “Who wouldn’t be angry? In the morning, my child said to me, ‘Mama, I’m going to school.’ In the evening, he turned up a corpse.”

World-famous artist Ai Wei Wei — who was only recently released after being held for three months in a small room with two round-the-clock guards some 30 inches away from him — had undertaken one of his “most political projects in recent years” in Dujiangyan, where he led a team of volunteers seeking to compile a list of names of students who had died in the school collapses. Ai also held an exhibition using children’s backpacks — a powerful symbol of the lost children — and traveled in 2009 to Sichuan to support Tan Zuoren. Tan, an advocate of the parents, was on trial for inciting subversion.

The response to Ai’s visit? According to the New York Times, he was beaten by police officers, while Tan was sentenced to three years in prison.

Biden did not mention any of this while speaking in Dujiangyan with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping present.

Inside a classroom, Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi sat in front of a semicircle of 31 students studying English and took questions. Mr. Biden talked about the dedication of his wife, Jill, to teaching (she has worked at community colleges), and he urged one girl to go into that profession. Mr. Xi sat and listened with little expression. But he became animated toward the end of the session, speaking to the children and smiling when he paraphrased a famous line from Mao. “The young people are like the sun in the morning,” Mr. Xi said. “The world belongs to you.”

Xinhua reports that Biden also met in Beijing with President Hu Jintao, top legislator Wu Bangguo and Premier Wen Jiabao. Biden is now on his way to Mongolia.


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Photo of collapsed buildings in Dujiangyan after the 2008 earthquake by treasuresthouhast


Monica D.
Monica D6 years ago

I hope that the human rights situation will improve worldwide.

Alicia N.
Alicia N6 years ago

noted with thanks

Jan N.
Jan N6 years ago

I'm afraid you're talkin' to the hand, Joe.

Ellen G.
Ellen G6 years ago

Who the hell are we to preach to others about human rights violations? People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. We have become chronic abusers and human rights violators. Until we clean house here and punish those who have been guilty of this (Bush and his entire administration as well as Obama) we have no right to say anything about another country. What a hypocrite! This country used to have values, our politicians were honest and worked for the wellbeing of all people, not just in our country. Now our politicians are a bunch of liars and crooks who don't care about anything but big business and world domination. They take from the poor in this country to give to the rich. I am ashamed of this country. We must pry the power out of the hands of these thugs. First step is to have voting machines that count our votes correctly not these shams that are easily manipulated to give the votes to the wrong person leaving no way of checking the inaccuracies.

Deborah Kampfer
Deborah Vitek6 years ago

This is laughable....until the U.S. is not in violation of human rights they should shut their mouths. They violate the rights of women every day....they violate the rights of youth when they send them to war, the violate the rights of every country they wage uncalled for war in and they violate the rights of the poor every day.

Talk about a do as I say and not as I do approach. If the U.S. would get out of everyone else's business and take care of their own messes they might start to regain some respect, they are becoming one of the biggest examples of hypocrisy this world has ever seen.

Valarie S.
Valarie Snell6 years ago

good article

Eug F.
Eug F.6 years ago

@ Sharon. Thank you for your comments. They are right on the money. Some peole here think that the USA is perfect and should be the model for the entire world to emulate. In a country that values war over everything, it has one in five children living in poverty, education inaccessible to many, 15% unemployment, 59 million without healthcare, rampant racism and on and on. And we preach to the rest of the world how to fix their country?

I think China and others know exactly what their country is and needs. They dont need lectures from us. People who live in glass houses shouldnt throw stones.

Alexandra Rodda
Alexandra Rodda6 years ago

The expressionless face when someone is talking could be a sign of disrespect or a sign of total lack of understanding. Mr. Xi may not have any concepts in this head to help him process the idea of human rights.

Sharon A.
Sharon A6 years ago

And yet we still send thousands of American jobs over there. We buy their cheap overpriced goods. We borrow an amount of money I cannot even picture. We ignore the fact that that dress or whatever good it is was probably created using child slave labor. We dont pay attention to the uncounted numbers of girl babies left to die in the wild because of their archaic one-child laws. The buying and selling of human beings goes on day after day there and we happily shop for their goods here with no conscience.

And we think to lecture them??????

Craig Zimmerman
Craig Zimmerman6 years ago

Most of our politicians make the obligatory human rights speech when they visit China, but nothing serious is ever done.