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Human Rights Law and Liberties

China and the US - the killer connection

   Mon 09/05/2011

Last week I had the privilege of listening to a speech by Chinese professor Lianxin Xiang at the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies in Bologna, where I got my post- graduate diploma 20 years ago. Since I will be visiting Beijing for the first time next week, I paid special attention.

Professor Lianxing firmly rejected American overtures to have a new world order based on a G-2 concept, with the US and China as a new bipolar powerbase. His preference was a G-3 with Europe being the third partner. This would provide more balance and be a better reflection of economic realities. But he also claimed that China had a stronger instinctive connection with Europe, because it has an eye for the needs of the collective, as opposed to America's unbridled individualism.

I was thinking about this when Americans danced and partied after the news of Osama Bin Laden's assasination. As a European, a lawyer and a human rights activist I had hoped there would be some regret, that Bin Laden had not been taken alive. A bit of dissapointment that he would not be tried in court would have been appropriate. Instead, on top of the celebrations, President Obama's approval rating shot up. The US public confirmed their stereotype: they love a strong leader, where strong is defined as ready to use violence, ie ready to kill. Europeans regularly wonder how a country with so many Pro-Life activists (and this is a pivotal issue in many elections) also manages to have the most lax gun laws and high death penalty rates. Ironically, pro-lifers tend to be pro-guns and pro-death penalty.

There is only one country that manages to kill more of it's own citizens through the death penalty or otherwise and that is, if course, China. Be as it may that China appreciates the European instinct to care for society as a whole, the disregard for the sanctity of human life fits better with the American mindset. A G-2 would hardly lobby against the death penalty or limit arms sales to nasty regimes.

And this is precisely why I do hope that we will have a world in which Europe has a role to play. Europe's insistence on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, though not always flawlessly implemented, can balance the other superpowers' tendencies to solve problems with bullets or electric chairs. Violence, whether internally or externally, whether in private or public relations, must always be a measure of extreme last resort. And if used, it should be with restraint and regret, rather than jubilation and pride. That is the world I would like to live in.