Sense of humanity’ explains China focus

The Daily’s effort to address a human rights issue in the July 21 editorial (“Ethics buried with Guatemalan victims”) is laudable. Such issues must be discussed publicly and acted upon. But it is my opinion that the editorial missed the point regarding the China issue and the differences between U.S. policy in China and Guatemala.
Washington’s concern for human rights abuses in China originates neither with ethics nor purely with economics. (I use your word “ethics,” although I think it is too weak a word. True outrage over such abuse of power often stems from a more fundamental sense of “humanity.”) The editorial’s error is to assume that President Clinton’s (and the media’s) focus on human rights is the result of pressure from human rights organizations. If this were the case, more detailed attention would also be paid by the media and politicians to the atrocities committed in Guatemala and other places in the world. Historically, however, there have been some human rights abusers who were criticized by Washington, others who were defended and supported. The criticism of China coming from human rights organizations only seems to be prominent because it matches the tactics of more politically powerful groups.
Clinton’s concern for human rights in China (acting as President; his personal view may be more honest) is the result of pressure from the right wing of the political elite (primarily Congressional Republicans, but some Democrats, along with political commentators, prominent academics, etc.). The outrage coming from the right wing is also not founded on ethical considerations. (In some cases, there is no outrage, not even mild concern. During his run for the 1996 Republican Presidential nomination, for example, Texas Sen. Phil Gramm told the Heritage Foundation that he thought the Chinese use of prison slave labor was a good idea and should be employed in the United States.)
There are undoubtedly some among this political elite whose concern is honest, but they are not the driving force behind the attention paid to China.
The source of this right wing “humanitarian” sentiment toward China can be found, in part, in the complexity of post-WWII Asia in which U.S. foreign policy was largely driven by the business connections and interests of powerful U.S. citizens, some of whom comprised the well known “China Lobby” and the lesser known “Korea Lobby” and “Japan Lobby.”
These were people — many in the OSS/CIA, the Department of Defense and Congress — who were or had the ears of key politicians, and who manipulated the political and military situations in Asia toward their personal ends: private, American, unilateral control over business concessions in Asia, as opposed to multilateral economic cooperation with independent nations. This dream of unilateralism is still alive today in some sectors of the American economy.
A second concern of the right wing is simpler: the destruction of the Clinton presidency and the potential candidacy of Vice President Al Gore, at any cost. As often as Clinton hands us causes for concern about his honesty, the right wing manufactures more in its hopes for a revival of the Reagan Years. Just as Central America paid dearly for that 1980s reign of terror, the prospects for Asia are grim should the right wing again gain power over foreign and military policy in this country; based on the rhetoric and actions of the right over the last five years, a president from that political wing will likely mean another Cold War and heightened military confrontation with China and devastating war in Korea. Towards this end, the continued and increasing demonization of China is yet a third impetus to the concern over human rights abuses in that country.
Demonizing official enemies also helps to take attention away from other, U.S. supported atrocities such as in Guatemala. U.S. foreign policy is completely different for the two countries because of the fundamental difference between these two abusers of humanity — one is economically independent, the other historically has been pathologically dependent on the United States.
What your editorial missed is that the spiraling descent into chaos that Guatemala has undergone had its origin in a U.S. directed coup in 1954. Already devastatingly poor, that country began to climb out of its desperate straits in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and began to develop programs that would redistribute land more equitably and eventually achieve a certain amount of economic and political independence from the United States and North American businesses. (For example, the American-owned United Fruit Company owned more than 40 percent of the land in Guatemala by the 1940s, but kept 95 percent of that land uncultivated, owning it only for the purpose of forestalling competitors from obtaining it. This meant the vast majority of the population had no land to farm for its subsistence, resulting in an overwhelming dependence on the United States for staple food imports.) This growing independence upset the State Department and the CIA (whose leading brothers, Foster and Allen Dulles, had significant business connections with United Fruit) and set a bad example for other dependent third world countries who yearned to breathe free.
In 1954, the CIA, aided by the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, overthrew the freely elected democratic government of Guatemala and set up a military dictatorship. Over time, the United States turned the Guatemalan military into a unified political institution. The Unites States supplied it with weapons which the military turned on its political rivals and, with help from the American Green Berets, on a rising insurgency.
When the country finally exploded in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, completing its descent into a madness where even the military and business sectors splintered into armed and mutually destructive camps, the United States continued pouring arms into the country, the Reagan Administration making sure to do so by any legal or illegal means. El Salvador and Nicaragua underwent similar torture at the same time, all to ensure an economically dependent region.
The fight against atrocities and the abuse of humanity, whether in China, Guatemala or elsewhere, must continue and grow. But in this country it must be led by the ordinary citizens, with a more realistic view of the world and an honest appraisal of our country’s role in these abuses. The empty gestures of our political class have a different agenda.

Thomas E. Fitch is an administrative aide in the College of Liberal Arts.