A video released on social media showed that a bloodied passenger, who appears to be of Asian descent, is being dragged off a United Express flight by the aviation security officers, after he refused to give up his seat.
However, the flaws in this logic can be seen when looking over the history of these very concepts. While all societies throughout history have had some notion of authority and repression against those who challenged it, concepts like "natural rights" and "due process" are fairly recent in terms of human existence. The subsistence farming economies of medieval and ancient times were not conducive to concepts like "free speech" or "freedom of religion."
Only with the rise of technology, mercantilism, and international trade which gave countries the ability to gradually emerge from primitive feudalism, did these modern political concepts arise. Only once they had achieved a new level of development with the dawn of capitalism and global trade could societies begin to accommodate greater levels of personal liberty. This trend has continued. As material abundance and stability has increased in Western countries, so has the level of personal freedom.
Western countries, with a far higher level of prosperity, stability and abundance, now speak as if all societies, under all circumstances, should have the same level of civil liberties and freedom as they currently enjoy. Many observers note that this unrealistic demand is often enforced hypocritically, with certain, defiant or independent regimes being targets for criticism, while the "human rights abuses" of pro-Western regimes in the underdeveloped world are ignored.
In the ongoing dialogue between the USA and China relating to the issue of human rights, it is important to compare the incidents which are highlighted for criticism.
In the United States, a 69-year old passenger named David Dao was violently dragged from his United Airlines flight for refusing to give up his seat. Video of the incident has been circulated across the internet by many Chinese people. The Chinese public has reacted to the video of this man being so violently ejected from United Airlines Flight 3411 and called it a violation of human rights.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and other publications in the United States have loudly criticized China for the practice of televising confessions from those convicted of corruption. Many voices in American media deem televised confessions to be a kind of immoral public humiliation, and editorials have loudly criticized the practice, calling it a human rights violation.
So how do these two occurrences compare to each other?
While those who read confessions on Chinese television are people who have been convicted of crimes, and opted to apologize in exchange for leniency, the man dragged from United Airlines Flight 3411 was never subject to any legal process.
However, when comparing these two controversial acts of punitive repression, the primary difference can be found, not even in the nature of how they were carried out, but for what purpose they served.
Why was David Dao violently dragged from the plane and injured so badly by police that he needed to be hospitalized? Because United Airlines wanted to save money by flying four of its employees in the place of ticketed costumers. David Dao was ejected violently because his refusal to give up his seat impeded corporate profits. To serve the end of a single company saving at most several thousand dollars, heavy-handed public repression was unleashed.
But why is it that confessions are being broadcast on Chinese television? It is because corruption motivated by greed is something that the people of China overwhelmingly recognize as a problem and want to see rooted out. President Xi's anti-corruption campaign is wildly popular among a Chinese public that is outraged by the crimes of corrupt officials. The televised confessions, condemned in the Western press, serve as a deterrent and warning to other officials who would consider graft, extravagance, or putting their own selfishness ahead of society.
What is the difference between these two occurrences, dubbed "human rights violations" by detractors? One act of repression is done without due process, for the purpose of helping a single corporation save money. Another act of repression involves legal process and is done for the benefit of the entire nation in order to root out the problem of corruption.
The global conversation about human rights remains simplistic, with assumptions and accusations often being hurled to serve political ends. Regardless, when comparing the United States and China, looking into what purpose a criticized practice may serve can often shed light into understanding bigger differences between the two countries and their political systems.
Caleb Maupin is a journalist and political analyst who resides in New York City focusing on U.S. foreign policy and the global system of monopoly capitalism and imperialism.
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.