Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee is in hot water this week after he raised the Chinese flag to full mast in front of the state house in Olympia. The occasion was a visit by Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the U.S., who was meeting with Inslee to discuss trade issues and cultural exchange.
Local citizens reacted swiftly, taking to blogs and social media to furiously denounce the governor’s decision. A small gathering of local citizens showed up with a state trooper escort and a municipal employee over the weekend to take down the flag.
Local politicians took notice, too—Washington state Representative Elizabeth Scott blasted the decision, telling media she “was not amused,” noting China’s abysmal record on human rights. Scott further denounced the double standard of Gov. Inslee’s recent decision to ban state-paid travel to Indiana after that state passed a version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The governor is apparently unwilling to send his employees to another American state but is happy to warmly receive the highest representative of a country that “still throws people into prison camps because of their beliefs.”
Scott has a point. If the governor truly cares about human rights in Indiana, where is that same sense of indignation for the victims of political repression, ethnic bias, and state-sanctioned sexual violence in China? Did Governor Inslee take his meeting with Ambassador Tiankai as an opportunity to discuss the One Child Policy, the Chinese government’s violence against the Uyghur minority, or the country’s systemic media censorship? Is he barring Washington state employees from traveling to China?
The fact is, the state of Washington exports more goods to China than to any other country, and imports more goods from China than from any other country save Canada (with which it shares a border). Like many other American policy makers, Governor Inslee looks at China and sees only a growing trade partner, not one of the most offensive human rights abusers on the world stage today.
The governor’s spokeswoman has tried to dismiss the entire incident as much ado about nothing. She says the state house typically flies the flags of countries of visiting dignitaries, and that the flag was removed not because of public outcry but according to routine procedure. The spokeswoman even noted, in an interview with the far-left blog Wonkette, that the Scottish flag would be flown in front of the state house to welcome another visiting diplomat during the same week. Wonkette took the opportunity to cry foul: “We’re earnestly awaiting [critics of the governor’s decision] to freak out over [his] traitorous sympathies toward those haggis-eating caber-tossers and their nefarious schemes to replace Old Glory’s stripes with tartan.”
Such flawed comparisons miss the point entirely. It is not significant that the governor simply flew a foreign flag—such a gesture is routine in some places (although placing the Chinese flag on the center staff arguably violated flag code). The point is that Governor Inslee and his defenders, who claim to care about human rights, turn a blind eye when confronted with a repressive, politically retrograde dictatorship like communist China. Not all regimes are created equal, and not all flags should be given equal respect.