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Georgetown and the CCP: an exclusive relationship
Let me say from the start that I have nothing at all against dialogue. However, when dealing with an authoritarian regime like the Chinese Communist Party, there seems to be a fine line between an open exchange of ideas and an approach to engagement that is more permissive than it is persuasive.
As Jackson Perry’s recent Voice feature story (“A global university: Georgetown’s deepening relationship with the Chinese Communist Party,” Sept. 15, 2011) discussed, this is especially true in the case of Georgetown’s interactions with “two of the most orthodox” organizations in the CCP: the Central Party School and the State Administration for Religious Affairs.
The question comes down to this: what’s the use of dialogue if neither party is willing to honestly discuss the relevant issues?
If you knew that your neighbor across the street beats his wife, and you wanted to stop it, you might try to meet with him to engage in constructive dialogue. You’d probably talk about why he shouldn’t beat his wife, why you don’t beat your wife, and why not beating wives is better for everyone. Many would find your approach a little naïve, but few would question your good intentions.
However, if you never invited his wife to join the discussion, and your “dialogue” instead consisted of long cordial visits and occasional side trips to New York City, the integrity of your relationship would be in serious question. Your intentions would seem even more dubious if your neighbor also happened to be tremendously wealthy, and his power and influence had been on an upward trajectory for the past 20 years.
Domestic violence isn’t anything to joke about, but this scenario is a good metaphor for Georgetown’s weak approach to engaging the CCP and addressing its deplorable human rights record. Furthermore, my recent experience indicates that the relationship between the University and the Chinese government has resulted in an academic environment at Georgetown that is less than completely free.
Earlier this month, I met with Wei Jingsheng, a prominent Chinese pro-democracy dissident who was imprisoned for 15 years and now lives in exile in the U.S. We discussed the need to raise awareness about human rights in China, and Wei expressed interest in participating on a panel with Georgetown professors to discuss the issue.
But after asking several Georgetown centers and professors to consider inviting Wei, I was shocked and disappointed by their response.
Not only did the majority of professors seem reluctant to even entertain the idea, many advised that Georgetown’s “extremely sensitive” relationship with the CCP made inviting a pro-democracy dissident to campus too “delicate.” One faculty member said that while he supported the concept, he feared possible “repercussions” from the University. Several people preferred to speak in person rather than communicate by email.
It is both incredible and unacceptable that the Georgetown community would “self censor” and allow itself to be intimidated by the CCP.
This concern seems even more relevant in light of the fact that, despite our relationship with the Chinese government, Georgetown professors like James Millward continue to have their visa requests for research denied. The Chinese government also has not become any less oppressive toward its citizens, despite years of dialogue with democratic countries. In fact, recent reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch assert that the CCP’s abuses against its own citizens have actually intensified in recent years.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, has also expressed doubts that change in China will ever come from its leadership. In an interview earlier this year with Charlie Rose, he said that the only way to improve human rights in China “is to make it clear to the Chinese people as a whole that the U.S. stands with them in their desire for greater freedom.”
Like the U.S. government, Georgetown also has an opportunity to let the Chinese people know that we stand with them. However, we can’t do this through quiet meetings in Georgetown’s academic centers behind closed doors. Instead, a serious commitment to a dialogue on human rights requires the discussion to move into Georgetown’s public square and involve inviting both CCP officials and human rights activists to the table.
Our relationship with the Chinese government presents both a challenge and a tremendous opportunity. We can continue to take a passive approach toward human rights in China, or we can act upon our commitment to be men and women for all people, whether they live close by, or thousands of miles away.