Can U.S. Lawmakers Take It As Much As They Dish It Out?

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By Jorge and Paola Guajardo

During President Hu Jintao´s visit to Washington last week, U.S. lawmakers engaged in a game of one-upmanship to see who could point out more faults with China´s record on human rights, whether it pertains to its one-child policy, Tibet, or Liu Xiaobo.  This kind of grilling of foreign heads of state, particularly those from developing countries, has become expected, as congressmen try to assure their constituents that they are not afraid to stand up for the cherished American values of democracy and freedom.

Which would be fine, if only these critics of China´s policies were willing to accept similar questioning when it came their way.  When Mexican President Felipe Calderón was in the U.S. for his state visit in 2010, he addressed a joint session of Congress and took the opportunity to talk about the effect of U.S. gun laws on the daily lives of Mexicans.  (More than 80% of the arms confiscated from the drug cartels have been traced to gun shops in the U.S. and there is a direct correlation between the expiration of the assault-weapons ban in 2004 and the marked increase in drug-related violence in Mexico.)  He also urged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and condemned the Arizona immigration law.

Calderón's speech was met with indignation by congressmen who thought he was overstepping and daring to interfere with U.S. internal affairs. They invoked the sacrosanct nature of the Second Amendment, which, as Senator John Cornyn put it, "is not a subject open for diplomatic negotiation, with Mexico or any other nation."  Which sounds a lot like what the Chinese government would say about criticism of what they consider to be strictly domestic matters.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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