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Economist Mao Yushi on why the Chinese government is not evil

Chinese economist Mao Yushi is in Washington DC to receive the $250,000 Cato Institute's Milton Friedman Liberty Prize for his advocacy for "an open and transparent political system." Mao, the 83-year-old founder of the Chinese think tank Unirule, infuriated leftists last year in China for calling for Mao Zedong (no relation) to be held accountable for his crimes. The case of Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights activist who sought safety in the U.S. Embassy late last month has spotlighted China's current human rights weaknesses, but Mao, who like many Chinese suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution, thinks that's missing the point. I interviewed Mao this morning about American imperialism, Bo Xilai, and Chairman Mao's long shadow (Edited and condensed for clarity):

On China's progress: America thinks the Chinese government oppresses human rights. Yes China has its problems, but in the past thirty years human rights in China has seen a big improvement. The American people and the American government think that Chinese government is evil, but that's wrong: It's not like in Mao Zedong's time, when they killed millions of people for political reasons. In the past thirty years, China has never executed someone for political reasons. (Even the execution of the former head of the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration) was for criminal reasons. Compare China to other countries like Syria, Libya: they've killed political prisoners. China has not.

On Former Chongqing Party secretary Bo Xilai: His (downfall) had a big connection to politics. He wanted China to return to Mao Zedong's time, and this I don't approve of. But many Chinese did. Many thought Mao was a big savior; like he was a God. It's possible that other (high leaders) have this view. They can't insult Mao. They put his big picture on Tiananmen Square. When I was in my twenties, I also believed in him. I thought he was great. But fifty million people died because of his rule. Many youthful people, they didn't have that experience, and still believe in Mao, like sixty years ago. Mao Zedong thought tricked me, and it's now tricking many young people.

On American Imperialism: Many in China and in the government thinks America is China's biggest enemy; that the "American imperialists want to destroy China." That's not happening. Also, the "American imperialists," they occupied Japan and Germany after World War 2, and now they're two of the world's biggest economies. I'm here to receive this prize, and many Chinese have said, you're taking America's money, you're a traitor. The Chinese government has taken so much money from the Ford Foundation, and I have just taken just a little bit of money.

On Chen Guangcheng: Both sides are using this to attack the other. China has used this to say you interfere in my internal politics, and need to apologize. America has used this to attack China on human rights, saying you don't protect your people, you are evil. Many Chinese government officials say America wants to destroy us, but so many Chinese come to America to study abroad. When they have troubles, they flee to American embassies. Wang Lijun (a former deputy of Bo), for example. Many Chinese people think America can protect them. 

On political reform: (Because of the Bo Xilai scandal) The Communist Party has opened the curtain a little, and let people see what's inside. Things are changing, and have changed. In Mao's time, politics was a matter of life and death. Transfer of power now is a peaceful process. From Deng Xiaoping, to Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao, there haven't been deaths. You look at (countries like Pakistan) and there were deaths. Most of my opinions I can express freely. Of course, not 100 percent of them, but most of them, as long as I'm fair. Compared with other developing countries' governments, China's government has done a very good job.

Mao with Justin Yifu Lin (right), photo courtesy of Cato Instiute

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The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Dark Days

"Spiking the football"

As expected, President Barack Obama's campaign is fully capitalizing on the killing of Osama bin Laden in his reelection pitch. An ad released on the one-year anniversary of the Abbottabad raid features former President Bill Clinton praising Obama for having the courage to order the raid and suggesting that Mitt Romney would not have made the same call. Romney pushed back on Monday, saying "Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order."  The ad's release preceded a surprise trip to Afghanistan, during which the president signed a new strategic partnership agreement with the Afghan government and addressed the U.S. public from Bagram air base.

Others criticized the Obama campaign for politicizing the issue and "spiking the football" as he had promised not to do in the waking of the killing.. "Shame on Barack Obama for diminishing the memory of September 11th and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political attack ad," said Sen. John McCain. The group Veterans for a Strong America released a response ad, "throwing the penalty flag up on President Obama for excessive celebration." The ad made the case that "Heroes Don't Politicize Their Acts of Valor."

Other commentators have pointed out that Obama is hardly the first president to politicize military success.

The battle over Chen

This week saw a high-stakes standoff in Beijing over the fate of human rights activist Chen Guangcheng on the eve of a major U.S.-China summit. In addition to his iconic status in China, Chen enjoys widespread support in the United States, including among prominent anti-abortion members of Congress. After Chen suggested to the media that he had been pressured to leave the U.S. Embassy and had been abandoned by U.S. officials, Romney was quick to respond. "If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom. And it's a day of shame for the Obama administration," Romney said during an event with Virginia where he was endorsed by former candidate Michele Bachmann.

Romney was criticized for his response by Weekly Standard editor and prominent neoconservative commentator Bill Kristol, who told Fox News, "To inject yourself into the middle of this way with a fast-moving target I think is foolish."

The United States and China reached a tentative deal on Friday that will allow Chen to leave China.

Romney spokesman steps down

The Romney campaign's newly appointed foreign policy and national security spokesman Richard Grenell stepped down this week. It wasn't Grenell's foreign-policy views that led to his downfall as much as the fact that he's openly gay and supports gay marriage. The appointment of Grenell, who had served as spokesman for former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton,  came under attack from religious conservatives from the beginning. He also faced criticism from liberals over tweets attacking major democratic political figures.

"While I welcomed the challenge to confront President Obama's foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign," Grenell said in a statement.

Newt's exit

Newt Gingrich officially suspended his campaign this week, but if the Romney camp was hoping for a strong endorsement, they came away disappointed. "As for the presidency, I'm asked sometimes, is Mitt Romney conservative?" Gingrich said in his concession speech at the Arlington Hilton. "And my answer is simple. Compared to Barack Obama? You know, this is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan. This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical leftist president in American history."

Though he acknowledged that his staunch support for establishing a colony on the moon may not have done wonders for his campaign, he promised to "cheerfully" recommit himself to the cause. Referring to his grandchildren, he said "I'm not totally certain I will get to the moon colony," he said. "I am certain Maggie and Robert will have that opportunity to go and take it. I think it's almost inevitable on just the sheer scale of technological change."

The latest from FP:

Michael Scheuer makes the case for why Ron Paul would be a great foreign-policy president.

Colum Lynch looks at the guilty schadenfreude at the U.N. over of Grenell's fate.

With Obama attacking Romney over his overseas wealth, Uri Friedman asks whether poor people can open Swiss bank accounts.

Stephen Walt wonders if the Kabul trip will be Obama's "mission accomplished" moment.

Scott Clement says voters are fine with presidential chest-thumping, as long as it's their candidate who's doing the thumping.

Michael Cohen argues that the Bin Laden killing is "the core of [Obama's] reelection prospects."

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages