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Toward a New Foreign Policy.

Key Recommendations

* The Bush administration should make an early and strong commitment to human rights as a priority in U.S. foreign policy.

* Washington should establish a consistent human rights policy that is applied equally to all countries regardless of ideological or economic interests.

* The U.S. should pursue multiple approaches to promoting human rights in China, including multilateral efforts and incentives for reform.

There are several key measures that the Bush administration should adopt right away. First, Secretary of State Powell should appoint a strong Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. He should also appoint senior-level advisors with substantial human rights expertise in the other functional and regional bureaus. Increased funding for the human rights bureau and for human rights initiatives would also be a significant sign of commitment by the new administration.

Second, the Bush administration should demonstrate its acceptance of international human rights norms by submitting unapproved international human rights treaties to the Senate for ratification, in particular, CEDAW and the CRC. By joining some of its closest allies--including France, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan--in adopting these agreements, the U.S. would reinforce the message to China and other countries that human rights are universally accepted and applied.

Washington should also establish clear human rights principles to guide all foreign policy. Human rights concerns should be addressed in summit meetings with all countries, including U.S. allies and trading partners. If the threat of economic sanctions is used to pressure one country on its human rights record, then the U.S. should apply the same policy criteria to all other states. Within the IFIs, the U.S. should work with other donor countries to establish explicit human rights criteria for any country seeking development assistance or foreign investment, and these criteria should be uniformly applied.

After fully integrating human rights concerns into foreign policy, Washington should apply these principles to China. The first step in this effort should be to seek cosponsors at the UNCHR for a resolution concerning China's human rights record. Beijing will take a resolution much more seriously if it is viewed as a multilateral response. Another opportunity for a multilateral approach to human rights is the October 2001 meeting of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) members, to be hosted by China. The U.S. should use this high-level meeting to work with other countries, particularly U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, to address human rights concerns across the region.

It is significant to note that serious multilateral pressure on Chinese authorities has already resulted in some progress regarding human rights. For example, China's decision to sign the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1997 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1998 stemmed from international pressure at the UNCHR. Each year before the UNCHR has convened, China has usually released a few political prisoners or announced new steps being undertaken to meet international obligations. In the most recent case, China ratified the ICESCR this year, albeit with reservations. PRC officials have also indicated a renewed willingness to discuss future visits to Chinese prisons by the International Red Cross. These overtures are again being offered just before the UNCHR meetings and as China prepares its bid to host the Olympics in 2008. To ensure that these promises are kept, the international community should keep up the pressure and hold China to its commitments.

On the bilateral front, human rights should be consistently addressed as a key concern in all summits and official meetings. The Chinese government has recently offered to renew the bilateral dialogue on human rights. This step should be welcomed as providing an additional forum for discussion, though not substituting for other actions. The U.S. should continue to press the Chinese authorities to meet with the Dalai Lama to discuss Tibet's future.

A new but potentially important mechanism is the Congressional-Executive Commission on the People's Republic of China (CECC), established in October 2000. Created by Congress in the law extending permanent normal trade relations status to China, the CECC has a mandate to monitor China's compliance with international human rights law. Each year, the CECC must issue a report to the president and Congress that includes recommendations for executive or legislative action. To enable the CECC to meet its mandate, the administration and Congress must make this initiative a high priority, and funding for the commission should be substantially increased. The 23 appointed members of the CECC should be senior representatives of their institutions, and they should have credibility with the Chinese government to ensure that both they and the commission staff will be able to visit the country and do firsthand reporting. CECC members should also seek cooperation with similar institutions in other countries.

The CECC offers the opportunity to work constructively with China on human rights concerns. The CECC could recommend or even provide technical assistance or financial support to the Chinese government in the areas of legal reform and human rights implementation. Labor rights is an issue in which the U.S. and China share many concerns, some of which will be exacerbated by China's imminent accession to the WTO. By approaching this issue as equals with lessons to learn from one another, the U.S. could improve overall relations with China as well as advance an important international human rights agenda.

Promoting human rights in China is clearly in the best interest of the United States. Working to enhance the human rights situation in the PRC reflects democratic values and supports those inside China seeking political and social reform. In addition, by encouraging China to uphold its obligations under human rights treaties, the U.S. will likely strengthen China's commitment to implementing other international agreements on issues of trade and security.

Margaret Huang <> 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
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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
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