The State Department's Colonel P.J. Crowley had some sharp words for China today:
QUESTION: I have a question about Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident (inaudible). I'm just wondering if you have any reaction to the fact that the government hasn't put him on trial despite (inaudible). And does this show in any way the limits on the usefulness of the Secretary's patient pragmatism or pragmatic patience or whatever the phrase is?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say ultimately this is –
QUESTION: Also, the diplomats are not being allowed in.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. No, you're exactly right. This is about the future of China. And it is about the – what kind of political system it is going to have, what kind of participation individual Chinese citizens are going to have, it's about the nature of the government in terms of its transparency. All of these things are touched in this particular case. As far as we can tell, this man's crime was simply signing a piece of paper that aspires to a more open and participatory form of government. That is not a crime. And certainly, the timing of the case is no accident. In all likelihood, the verdict will be released on Christmas Day, when it's designed specifically to attract as little attention as possible.
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait.
MR. CROWLEY: The trial did not.
QUESTION: Christmas is not a holiday in China.
MR. CROWLEY: No, but I think they are very conscious of how this will be viewed in other places where Christmas is a holiday. But the speed of the trial, the fact it was not open, the fact his family was not allowed to observe either. I mean, these are not hallmarks of the kind of government that is likely to be successful in the dynamic world of the 21st century. And we will continue as we have to have frank discussions with China about its future and human rights within China. It is a fundamental aspect of our relationship with China. And just recently when the President met with Hu Jintao, as the (inaudible) said, human rights was a focal point of these discussions and we will continue to have them.
QUESTION: One other thing on China.
QUESTION: Hold on a second. This is not a hallmark of a government that is likely to be successful in the 21st century? They own us. What are you talking about? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It's the exact quote they gave to the last Treasury bond.
QUESTION: Do you have – do you know how much we owe them off the top of your head? I don't.
MR. CROWLEY: $800 billion, give or take? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: They seem to be doing pretty successfully so far in the 21st century. No?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I don't want to get into a great metatheoretical debate here.
QUESTION: No, I was just – I'm just curious.
MR. CROWLEY: No, no. But again, the nature of governments, how they govern, their relationship with their people are central to the forces that will shape the 21st century – how dynamic is your society, can the nature of your government keep up with the dynamism that we think will be characteristic of this century? I don't argue with you that – and in fairness to China, China is evolving. We're approaching, what, the 31st anniversary of normalization of relations between the United States and China. And certainly the nature of our relationship has changed in fundamental ways – from when President Nixon went to China, what, 38 years ago. And – but China will continue to have to evolve. And as China evolves, its political system and its institutions and its fundamental relationship with its people will have to change as well. And I mean, these kinds of actions are clearly a political trial that will likely lead to a political conviction is uncharacteristic of a great country.
QUESTION: Are you also following the cases of the 22 being tried in the Xinjiang region?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it's – also, I would throw the fact that you had – China intimidated Cambodia into sending back the Uighurs. I mean, ultimately, this is, in our view, not actions that are characteristic of a great power.
Good for Colonel Crowley. Whether President Obama or Secretary Geithner would say the same thing is another question. I've tried to make the case here that the future of economic freedom in America is a matter that is related to the question of political freedom in China, in part because the economic relations between America and China are so extensive. It's something to keep a close eye on.