In President Obama’s meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao this week, should discussion of human rights and religious freedom be on par with economic and environmental issues, or should human rights and religious freedom be secondary matters?
According to the ancient Chinese philosopher K’ung-fu-tze, a.k.a. Confucius, the first principle of character and of government is sincerity. It matters little whether human rights is on par with economic an environmental issues or is a secondary issue in the diplomatic relationship between China and the United States. What matters is that human rights, religious freedom, and all the issues confronting the two nations are handled with sincerity.
Sincerity is truth, honesty and purity. Sincerity acts without guile. During a joint press conference between President Obama and President Hu, a Chinese reporter asked speaking of “a baseline of trust.” President Hu spoke of cooperation, communication and coordination. I say: before there can be strategic mutual trust, there ought to be strategic mutual sincerity.
However, the catch here is that the only sincerity that any individual, national leader or not, can guarantee is his own. A strategic mutual sincerity is sincerity as a stratagem of the leaders of both countries toward a larger goal. Thus, the virtue of sincerity that will lead to mutual trust and to world peace is ours to live and to model in intra-national, bi-national and multi-national relations.
In the book “Our Oriental Heritage”, historian Will Durant describes the ideal human according to Confucius–intelligent, courageous, acts with good will. He taught that leaders of nations were morally obligated to set a good example for their people: “The ruler must be an eminence of model behavior, from which, by prestige imitation, right conduct will pour down upon his people.”
Confucius made the connection between manners, morals and good government. This means an equitable distribution of wealth. He taught: “the centralization of wealth is the way to scatter the people, and letting it be scattered is the way to collect the people.” Before Kant’s thinking on representative democracy and the possibility for perpetual peace, Confucius thought a republic could lead to universal peace: “they elect men of talents, virtue and ability; they talk about sincere agreements, and cultivate universal peace.”
Sincere agreements are those where words and actions cohere. The way to strategic mutual trust is made with actions that breathe life into diplomatic promises. The issue of human rights and China is important and ought to be discussed honestly between leaders. President Obama spoke of the matter of Tibet. “And even as we, the United States, recognize that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China, the United States continues to support further dialogue between the government of China and the representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve concerns and differences, including the preservation of the religious and cultural identity of the Tibetan people.”
It is important to remember that Tibet is rich in mineral resources. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica on-line, Tibet possesses gold, borax, radium, iron, titanium, lead, arsenic, copper, graphite, coal, oil shales, chromite, lithium, lead, zinc and manganese. There are swift flowing rivers and mountain streams that have the potential for hydro-electric power. Tibet also holds the potential of geothermal, solar and wind power. An honest analysis of this situation ought to recognize China’s material interests as well as its irredentist claims to Tibet. At the same time, the legitimate desire of the Tibetan people to their own national sovereignty ought to be respected.
Perhaps the solution to this problem lies in the wisdom of another ancient Chinese sage, Mo Ti, a pacifist who taught universal love and peace. Durant reports the history that tells us he once dissuaded the State Engineer of the Kingdom of Chu from invading the state of Sung. The engineer no longer wanted to conquer the province: “It is as if I had already given you the state of Sung”, Mo Ti told the engineer. “Do persist in your righteous course and I will give you the whole world.”
Speaking of the progress of human rights in China, President Hu noted that China is a developing country facing the challenges of economic and social development. He admitted: “a lot still needs to be done in China, in terms of human rights.” He intimated that human rights are also an evolving reality in China. We can only hope that China evolves toward the teaching of its ancient sages who taught the power of universal love and sincerity.