Does the U.S. government apply a double standard when it comes to noting and protesting human-rights violations in China as compared, say, to those that take place in the Soviet Union or South Africa? Policy-makers, who clearly aren't comfortable with the question, acknowledge when pressed that the government does take a "differentiated approach" toward human rights in different countries. That's a euphemistic way of conceding that, effectively, a double standard indeed exists. The fact of the matter is that from the reopening of relations with Beijing in 1972 to the present time, successive Administrations have considered it helpful to U.S. interests to say as little as possible about the status of human rights in China. The record of most academic experts on China, and of the press, hasn't been much better.
What's helped perpetuate this code of quasisilence is the absence of any organized constituency of Americans interested enough in human rights in China to insist that abuses there be publicized and condemned. That is not the case with the Soviet Union or South Africa. With both countries, well-organized groups of Americans closely monitor, outspokenly condemn and regularly lobby against the offending regimes.
Some U.S. officials and scholars suggest that to judge China by Western standards of law and morality is unfair or unreasonable. A better standard, they say, is to compare today's China with the sanctioned lawlessness and extraordinary cruelty that caused such suffering during the decade of the Cultural Revolution. Assessed this way, they say, there has been a marked improvement from the depredations of those nightmarish years.