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Problems with Current U.S. Policy.

Key Problems

* U.S. policymakers frequently resort to rhetoric about the importance of human rights rather than implementing meaningful policy measures.

* U.S. critics of China's human rights violations often let their ideology undermine a consistent application of international human rights law.

* Washington has underutilized multilateral approaches in addressing China's human rights problems.

Over the last decade, both the executive branch and the U.S. Congress have been outspoken about China's human rights problems. The annual State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices have documented numerous violations year after year, and on several occasions there has been bipartisan support in Congress to condemn Beijing for its human rights record. Washington has also supported a resolution concerning China's human rights violations at sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in eight of the last nine years. And in the recent U.S. presidential election, both the Democratic and Republican candidates emphasized the need to promote human rights in China.

Unfortunately, U.S. policy initiatives to promote human rights in the PRC have not matched the intensity of the rhetoric. Although the U.S. government has raised human rights concerns in summits and other official meetings, these bilateral overtures have generally failed to evoke a response from Chinese authorities, indicating that the Chinese do not take the U.S. interventions seriously. This perception is understood when contrasting Washington's responses to Beijing's refusal to comply with its obligations under two separate international agreements. In 1996, the Clinton administration announced its intentions to apply economic sanctions against China for failing to protect intellectual property rights (IPR) as obligated under a 1995 agreement. Under this pressure, China backed down and undertook immediate steps to enforce the agreement. But the same U.S. government rejected any linkage between economic sanctions and China's violations of international human rights treaties, which have the same binding force as the IPR agreement.

To strengthen U.S. human rights policy toward China, Washington must demonstrate that it applies the same principles and standards to China as it does to other countries. Beijing has protested that the U.S. singles out the PRC for scrutiny while ignoring violations committed by U.S. allies. Many of China's critics in the U.S. have focused on the Communist Party as the cause of China's human rights violations. This emphasis on ideology instead of international human rights norms reduces U.S. credibility. During the congressional debate over approving China's accession to the WTO, several opponents cited Beijing's human rights violations and its communist leadership as justification for denying China entry into the organization. Yet these arguments have not been applied to other countries seeking to join the WTO.

U.S. policymakers are at a disadvantage when pressuring China to uphold international human rights law, because the U.S. has failed to ratify many of the same international treaties. China and the U.S. have each ratified one of the two major covenants on human rights. However, China has ratified the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), neither of which has been ratified by the United States. By failing to accept the human rights obligations under these treaties, Washington risks further charges of hypocrisy when prodding China to improve its human rights record.

Multilateral approaches to addressing China's human rights record are important, because Chinese authorities react seriously to them. For example, for the last several years at the UNCHR, U.S. officials have failed to overcome China's opposition to a resolution on its human rights problems. The Chinese government has undertaken fervent campaigns to avoid a UN censure, asking countries to engage in bilateral dialogues about human rights concerns instead of supporting a UN resolution. PRC officials have even offered development assistance and trade opportunities to countries that support its position. These efforts, exacerbated by the failure of U.S. officials to effectively solicit cosponsorship of the resolution, demonstrate the Chinese government's determination to avoid international criticism.

Another multilateral approach slighted by Washington is the use of development assistance through the international financial institutions (IFIs) to encourage reform. Under the Foreign Assistance Act, the U.S. government is required to advance international human rights through its voting power in the IFIs. However, China is the World Bank's biggest client, with loans of $1.4 billion approved in the year 2000 alone, because the U.S. and its allies have failed to ensure that World Bank loans are conditional upon a country's respect for human rights norms.

Margaret Huang <huang@rfkmemorial.org> is the program director for Asia and the Middle East at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and sits on the board of directors of Women's EDGE.
COPYRIGHT 2001 International Relations Center
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Huang, Margaret
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:Mar 15, 2001
Words:793
Previous Article:U.S. Human Rights Policy Toward China.
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