Monday, 8 November 2010

NYTIMES: Mr. Ban Pulls His Punches

In a meeting with President Hu Jintao of China in Beijing on Monday, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, discussed climate change and efforts to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula. Mr. Ban also nudged China to play a greater role in peacekeeping and in finding political solutions to conflicts in Sudan and Somalia.

He was shamefully silent on one critical issue: China’s poor human rights record and its unjustified imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo, the country’s leading democracy activist and this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr. Liu is serving an 11-year sentence for spurious subversion charges. Since the prize was awarded last month, China’s authoritarian government has put his wife under house arrest and increased its persecution of other democracy activists.

We have not heard an explanation from Mr. Ban for why he did not raise Mr. Liu’s case. When asked, his spokesman merely told reporters that “it is correct, he did not discuss human rights,” adding that there were “many topics on the agenda.” That is no explanation.

Mr. Liu, a 54-year-old scholar, writer, poet and social commentator, is an unfaltering advocate of peaceful political change. During the 1989 pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square, he staged a hunger strike, then negotiated a peaceful retreat of student demonstrators as thousands of soldiers stood by with rifles drawn. Since then, he has been harassed and repeatedly detained but has refused to be silenced.

Mr. Liu’s case and Beijing’s human rights record are within Mr. Ban’s purview and responsibilities. China signed the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and should be held to those commitments.

Mr. Ban is expected to stand for a second term as secretary general next year. We hope Monday’s performance does not mean that he now plans to pull his punches on sensitive issues to curry favor with China or any other member of the Security Council.

Beijing is far too accustomed to throwing its weight around these days. Too many governments, companies and others are afraid to push back. One admirable exception: the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which ignored China’s warning not to give Mr. Liu the award. Instead, it commended Mr. Liu for “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” and reminded China’s leaders that its “new status must entail increased responsibility.”

We suggest Mr. Ban read the full award and then think hard about why he wants a second term. The United States, meanwhile, should think hard about whether it wants to support Mr. Ban’s re-election.

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