Human Rights and Chinese Interests

At The Diplomat, the Project 2049 Institute’s Julia Famularo writes of the need to persuade China that upholding human rights is in its own national interest, China Digital Times reports:

Beijing has consistently justified human rights abuses in the pursuit of “social stability,” argued Dr. Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch. She highlighted the role of “civil society groups and advocates,” who “continue to slowly expand their work despite their precarious status,” as well as the “informal but resilient network of activists,” which “monitors and documents human rights cases as a loose national ‘weiquan’ (rights defense) movement. These activists endure police monitoring, detention, arrest, enforced disappearance, and torture.”

[…] The United States and its democratic partners need to think more creatively about how to best promote and protect human rights as well as achieve the release of political prisoners. U.S. leaders must continue to speak out publicly and privately in meetings with their Chinese counterparts to make our principles and aspirations clear. However, we should also increase the number of academic exchanges and Track II dialogues to constructively engage China at all levels of society. Through measures designed to build trust, enhance transparency, and share best practices, the United States can make it clear to China that we have mutual interests in elevating human rights. For example, legal and judicial exchanges have already provided China with the resources and knowledge it needs to make positive legal reforms to its criminal code.

China acts—and will continue to act—in its own national interests. The U.S. must convince China that a sustained focus on human rights does not constitute diplomatic containment. […] [Source]

Ian Johnson highlights another example at The New York Review of Books, in a wide-ranging review of Geoff Dyer’s The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China–and How America Can Win, Stephen Roach’s Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China, David Shambaugh’s China Goes Global: The Partial Power, and Geremie Barmé and Jeremy Goldkorn’s China Story Yearbook 2013: Civilising China. Johnson argues that China’s domestic human rights record undermines its trustworthiness, and therefore influence, on the international stage:

One could argue that human rights don’t matter to China’s rise—that these are domestic issues that won’t affect expansion abroad. And yet China’s narrow political system is clearly one reason for its neighbors’ suspicions. If the government continues to lock up moderates then many abroad will wonder if China is the sort of country that can make a long-term stable friend.

The most recent case was the conviction of rights activist Xu Zhiyong. In late January, he was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order,” stemming from his work to organize the New Citizens Movement. […] Harshness like this at home won’t prevent China from cutting resource deals—China has money, and these goods are for sale—but it will make it hard for any developed (and, by extension, democratic) country to treat China like a true long-term partner.

This theme is picked up with gusto in David Shambaugh’s China Goes Global: The Partial Power. Shambaugh is one of the most influential analysts of China–US relations. His book shows the flip side of China’s military rise: its inability to use its new power to influence the world. […]

What Shambaugh makes clear is that for all the bluster, China actually accomplishes little diplomatically. Except for events directly affecting its territory, it stays on the sidelines of most international conflicts, never shaping outcomes. Instead, its main foreign policy tool seems to be the ritualized state visit by foreign dignitaries. [Source]


Assignment China: Tiananmen Square

US China Tiananmen PhotoThe Tiananmen Square crisis in 1989 was a turning point for China. Weeks of student-led demonstrations ended in a bloody military crackdown, with far-reaching consequences not only for China’s development but for its relations with the rest of the world. 

Assignment China: Tiananmen Square, produced by the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California and narrated by former CNN Beijing bureau chief Mike Chinoy, tells the behind-the-scenes story of the reporters who covered the dramatic events in Beijing that spring. It features interviews with most of the leading American journalists who were there, as well as diplomats and scholars, and contains rare video clips and photos from that tumultuous time. 

Interact at the post-screening discussion with these experts: 

Edward McCord (moderator), Director, Sigur Center for Asian Studies; Associate Professor of History and International Affairs; Director, Taiwan Education and Research Program 

Dan Southerland, Executive Editor, Radio Free Asia 

Jim Mann, former Beijing correspondent for the Los Angeles Times



Doors Open: 6:15 pm 

Event: 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Funger Hall

2201 G Street, NW; 6th Floor -

Washington, DC 20052 


Hong Kong democracy gains boost with DC visit

Hong Kong democracy activists gained a boost in Washington last week with a visit to the capital by Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders Martin Lee and Anson Chan, writes China analyst Mark C. Eades  . Lee is the founding chairman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, Chan is the former Chief Secretary for Administration of Hong Kong, and both are former members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. While in Washington Lee and Chan met with Vice-President Joe Biden and with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, spoke at a briefing with the National Endowment for Democracy, and appeared as panelists at a Congressional-Executive Commission on China roundtable on the future for democracy in Hong Kong.

 In Washington, Lee and Chan also spoke at a National Endowment for Democracy briefing on “Why Democracy in Hong Kong Matters.” Video from both appearances is well worth watching.


Defending Hong Kong democracy in ‘global war of ideology’

MARTIN LEETwo of the most stalwart fighters for democracy in the global war of ideology were in Washington last week, hoping for moral support, The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt reports:

They made for an odd couple, though each has spent more than 40 years in the struggle: one is a consummate insider and the other has always battled from the outside.

The latter, lawyer Martin Lee (left) fought the British for more autonomy when they ruled Hong Kong. Since the British left in 1997, he has pressed Beijing to keep its word to allow Hong Kong to preserve its separate system of governance within China — the formula known as “one country, two systems.” …Anson Chan (right), by contrast, rose AnsonchanHKthrough the prestigious Hong Kong civil service to the top appointed position of chief secretary, resigning in 2001 when she felt the chief executive was allowing Beijing to chip away at Hong Kong’s core values: rule of law, a level playing field and freedom of press, speech and association.

With the 2017 and 2020 elections on the horizon, Chinese leaders are making increasingly clear they intend to install politicians they can control, an ominous sign for Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms—not to mention the economy, which relies on transparency and the rule of law, the two veteran leaders told a meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy

U.S. President Barack Obama recently told an audience in Brussels that, though the future belongs to those who support freedom and democracy, “those rules are not self-executing” and “the contest of ideas continues for your generation,” Hiatt observes, yet he also insisted that there is no new Cold War. “After all,” he said, “unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology.”

It’s true that “anti-freedom” doesn’t sound like an ideology to most Americans…But the dictators of Russia and China today are making a bid for legitimacy as well as survival, he writes:

They present themselves as guarantors of stability, warding off the confusion and insecurity that follow democratic uprisings. They boast of investing in the future — in highways and fast trains — in ways that pandering elected officials in India or the United States cannot manage. They put their systems forward as an antidote to the empty materialism of capitalist democracies — the pornography, the hedonism, the lack of respect for elders and religious leaders. They claim to stand for community, spirituality and tradition.

…But whether the leaders believe in their stew of xenophobia, phony egalitarianism and traditional (Russian Orthodox or Confucian) values hardly matters. They are fighting a new Cold War against democracy, and the other side is only intermittently on the field.


HK democracy activists urge West to speak out

MARTIN LEETwo prominent Hong Kong democracy campaigners on Wednesday urged Western powers to speak out against what they described as Beijing’s growing interference in the semi-autonomous financial hub, AFP reports:

On a visit to Washington, Martin Lee, a founder of the opposition Democratic Party, recalled that the United States and other nations had tried to reassure Hong Kong residents by throwing their support behind the deal in which Britain returned the city to China in 1997.

“Every government that supported the joint declaration and continues to support it owes a moral obligation to the people of Hong Kong to speak out when something like today is going terribly wrong,” Lee said at the US-funded National Endowment for Democracy. “All we are asking for is fair play. After all, China promised democracy to Hong Kong.”

China has promised to allow direct elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017 but critics question the credibility of the vote if Beijing approves candidates.