By John E. Carey
The Washington Times
January 15, 2008

China and Vietnam top many lists at the U.S. Department of State and the United Nations: human-rights abusers, global polluters of immense proportions, and leaders in putting economics before protection of their vast populations who live without freedom of speech, free media, fair and open elections and other rights most peoples take for granted.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte will visit both nations starting Jan. 16, 2008. Obvious issues include the huge trade imbalance between the United States and China, China’s currency valuation, worker safety and rights issues in Vietnam and China and the safety of products exported to others. But there are also a host of lesser discussed issues that need to be addressed.

Human Rights: Both China and Vietnam are on the list of nations that routinely violate human rights. The State Department and the U.N. have documented many abuses yet the consequences for these communist governments of China and Vietnam have been inconsequential. China agreed to alleviate human-rights abuses during its evaluation and ultimate selection to host the Summer Olympic Games later this year.

Vietnam said it would address human rights more directly as it was seeking acceptance to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Most human-rights organizations say those promises from China and Vietnam turned out to be lies — and the world community has largely stood by idly.

Darfur: China is Sudan’s No. 1 trading partner; yet China continues to largely look the other way at the abuses and possibly even genocide in Darfur. In the last few days, two news items highlighted this problem.

(1) U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno told the Security Council last Wednesday that U.N. peacekeeping forces lack the troops and equipment to improve the situation in violence-wracked Darfur and will continue to be ineffective until at least mid-2008.

(2) China’s senior diplomat for Sudan and Darfur denied any linkage between the human-rights abuses in Darfur and China’s Olympic Games. Liu Guijin, special envoy for Darfur, said China cannot be held responsible for the actions of the government of Sudan.

But we wonder if China has exerted its influence in Sudan commensurate with its vast business interests there — including oil drilling, infrastructure projects and weapons sales.

Pollution: China and Vietnam are now among the world’s leaders in pollution and global warming. Both nations have extremely high degrees of polluted ground water, much of it caused by overuse of pesticides and fertilizers. We urge the United States to offer ways to ameliorate this problem though training, scientific applications and the use of better methods and chemicals.

China’s air pollution is now so severe that Olympic teams are expressing concern for the health of their athletes during this summer’s Olympics and nations such as Japan have protested that the air pollution in China is now affecting nations around the globe. We urge the United States to continue to raise this issue with Beijing.

Territorial and resources dispute: China and Vietnam are embroiled in a longstanding dispute over islands and resources in the South China Sea. The Spratley and Paracel islands straddle vast oil and gas wealth, according to experts, and both China and Vietnam tenaciously claim ownership. The disagreement came to a boil in November and December after China reasserted its claim to the islands. The people of Vietnam reacted so vocally in protests and blogging that the communist government of China asked the communist government in Vietnam to quell the dissent. This ugly dispute, without resolution, has many possible outcomes, all of which would be harmful to regional peace and stability.

Despite the larger issues of balance of trade and currency values, a huge subtext of issues regarding China and Vietnam should be more openly discussed with these two communist governments.

John E. Carey is a former senior U.S. military officer, a specialist in Asia, and president of International Defense Consultants Inc. He is a frequent contributor to The Washington Times.

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