Khashoggi case tests Washington’s attitude to human rights

Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/16 23:41:54

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia Tuesday. One day before his visit, Turkish police investigators entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. As the US and Turkey are strengthening communication with Saudi Arabia, the tension over missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, reportedly killed inside the consulate, is expected to abate.

Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, went missing after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and was presumed killed in the consulate by Turkey. The case sparked Western condemnation of Saudi Arabia and caused a diplomatic crisis. Boycotts have been taken by major business leaders and anger is spreading among Western politicians.

US President Donald Trump's attitude is intriguing to contemplate. On the one hand, he promised "severe punishment" if Saudi Arabian government's involvement in the journalist's death is confirmed. But on the other, he said he does not favor stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia. After a phone call with King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Trump suggested "rogue killers" were to blame.

The crisis has shown how human rights issues are positioned in the diplomatic arena. Killing a journalist for political reasons touches the bottom line of individual rights and causes wide resonance beyond national borders. It deals a devastating blow to the reputation of Saudi Arabia.

The development of human rights is an integral part of modernization. It must be acknowledged that different countries have different priorities in developing human rights.

Western countries have conducted "human rights diplomacy" against many non-Western countries on different occasions and to a varying degree.

It is hard for Saudi Arabia to defend itself this time. The price it will pay depends on whether the Trump administration will let it off the hook for the sake of US commercial interests and geopolitical calculations. It's highly likely the Trump administration will do so.

Russia was accused of being behind the poisoning of ex-Russian agent Sergei Skripal earlier this year. Led by Britain and supported by the US, a number of Western countries imposed harsh sanctions on Russia, including expelling Russian diplomats.

Now Western public opinion is much angrier toward Saudi Arabia. Spontaneous boycotts quickly took place. But in contrast, fewer denunciations come from the Western governments and no country is taking the lead in punishing Saudi Arabia. 

Given the US-Saudi Arabia alliance, the White House is reluctant to punish Saudi Arabia. Trump touted sovereignty as a priority when speaking at the United Nations.

It's possible that the Khashoggi murder case will gradually cool under the influence of the US. Saudi Arabia may only suffer affordable losses.

The case shows that there are double, even multiple standards for the West's human rights diplomacy. Non-Western countries should develop human rights. At the same time they should build strength to win more initiative to deal with human rights diplomacy.

Posted in: EDITORIAL

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