The United States frequently voices concerns about human rights abuses in China and North Korea. But now, both nations are taking Washington to task after a U.S. Senate report said the CIA tortured suspected terrorists.
Late Tuesday, in apparent anticipation of the report’s release and World Human Rights Day, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency argued that racial tensions and protests over police killings and the U.S. Senate report were signs that the United States needs to clean up its own human rights problems.
“America is neither a suitable role model nor a qualified judge on human rights issues in other countries,” it said. The editorial claimed that “people rarely hear the U.S. talking about its own problems, preferring to be vocal on the issues it sees in other countries, including China.”
China’s state-run broadcaster gave the story prominent coverage on Wednesday featuring footage depicting waterboarding and scenes of torture from Hollywood movies.
During its noon broadcast CCTV carried lengthy stories about the torture report and one anchor remarked that: “it seems that what we’ve seen in the movies is actually real.”
China’s Foreign Ministry spoke up as well, voicing its opposition to torture and urging the United States to reflect on its mistakes, change its ways and uphold international commitments.
However outside of China's tightly controlled state-run media, there was a more nuanced discussion online that reflected concerns about China’s own use of torture.
A user by the name of White Dove remarked that the CIA’s use of extreme interrogation methods was “nothing compared to China’s labor education reform.” China used its so-called labor education reform system for decades to silence political dissidents until it was abolished last year.
Another asked: “Why are we making such a fuss about the United States getting a cold when you’ve got cancer?”
This year, China’s Communist Party held a meeting that focused on promoting rule of law. But that did little to stem the arrest of dissidents in a country where party interests come first.
And although China said it opposes torture, and forced confessions are not admissible in court, rights activists have noted that the use of torture is not uncommon in China.
'Disregard for human rights'
The Xinhua article said China welcomes friendly advice and suggestions about its human rights issues, but warned the United States that being “loose” domestically and “strict” abroad “could be taken as a disregard for human rights.”
North Korea also went on the offensive, releasing its own commentary before the Senate report was published.
The North’s KCNA quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as calling the CIA’s practices “inhuman” and accused the United Nations of ignoring the report and what it called “American policemen’s brutalities,” while seeking to discuss its human rights situation.
North Korea's own human rights situation has been under scrutiny in the United Nations, where last month the general assembly's human right's committee urged the security council to refer the North to the International Criminal Court.
In the Chinese press, not all discussion focused on human rights.
An opinion piece in the popular daily, the Beijing News, talked about the possible political motives behind the report’s release. The piece argued that the real target of the report was not torture, but what it called "George W. Bush’s style" of the war on terror.
The article added that with only a portion of the 6,000-plus-page report being released to the public, Americans were only getting “part of the truth,” or as it put it, the true account of the program the Democrats would like the public to see.