As is often the case with President Trump, his injection of humor carries an underlying serious message: his tolerance of and even appreciation for authoritarian gesuters. In this case, he cleared admired the unsparing efficiency of the Chinese criminal justice system. “Ours take 15 years; theirs takes one day.”
Even discounting for his ever-present hyperbole, the president fails to recognize that the efficiency of the Chinese system comes at the expense of individual rights and liberty. Trump’s own State Department has condemned the arbitrary detention of nearly 1 million Uighur Muslims without even the benefit of, in the president’s words, a “quick trial.” Just last month, the Trump administration decried the treatment of Pastor Wang Yi, a church leader in Chengdu, China, who was “was tried in secret and sentenced to nine years in prison” for the “peaceful advocacy for religious freedom.” In that case, “[the trials] go so quick, you don’t know what happened” most certainly held true. These abuses highlight the long list of abuses in the 2018 State Department report on human rights in China.
And yet, in pursuit of his much ballyhooed trade deal with that same government, the president makes light of not only the “quick trials,” but of the harsh penalties meted out by the lightning-fast court proceedings: “You want to talk about penalties? Those are strict. (Laughter.)” Strict indeed. In November, in the midst of trade negotiations, a Chinese court sentenced nine people in an opioid smuggling case: All nine were imprisoned, two for life and another received a suspended death penalty sentence.