Clinton must press China on rights
A stable, open China is in America's best interests.
When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton touches down in Beijing this week she will face an authoritarian Chinese government wringing their hands over a remarkably brazen online petition for human rights and an end to autocratic rule that is circulating among its citizens.Skip to next paragraph
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The reason: Charter 08 is the longest sustained human rights campaign in China since the Tiananmen Square massacre 20 years ago this June and continues to spread throughout China despite the government's best attempts.
It was released by Chinese intellectuals, lawyers, and dissidents on the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Dec. 10 and has since been signed by over 8,000 ordinary Chinese citizens, who are bravely displaying their names, addresses, and occupations online for all to see, including China's fearsome secret police.
Clinton should capitalize on the momentum created by the charter to promote a responsible human rights agenda. To be sure, much has changed in China since Tiananmen Square.
But, despite progress in realizing social and economic rights and some increases in individual freedoms, China today remains responsible for profound violations of its people's civil and political rights, from restrictions on free expression and religious freedom to detention without trial, torture, excessive use of the death penalty, involuntary resettlement, and forced abortions. In its foreign policy, China often backs repressive regimes around the world, including Sudan and Myanmar (Burma), and waters down international sanctions against them.
America and China's interrelated responsibilities to address climate change are expected to dominate Clinton's conversations with the Chinese. Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions is critical to our bilateral relations and to the health and prosperity of the planet. But China is unlikely to meet its environmental obligations without the accountability provided by democracy and human rights.
In addition to the Tiananmen anniversary, 2009 is also a year of multiple significant political anniversaries as well as the year for China's evaluation under the UN Universal Periodic Review. In fact, the Human Rights Council and several UN member states have called on China to extend to its citizens – especially ethnic minorities, journalists, and human rights defenders – full access to human rights.