Zhang Zuhua and Jiang Qisheng: For Blue Skies, First Clear the Air on Human Rights

Zhang Zuhua and Jiang Qisheng, two of the original drafters of Charter 08, have written a response to what they think is the approach of the U.S. to China relations. The current administration is treading carefully on the subject of human rights, emphasizing first environmental issues. But Zhang and Jiang argue that progress on this front will happen once human rights are upheld in China. From the Washington Post:

Obama also spoke eloquently of American respect for free expression, rule of law and other human rights, declaring these to be “universal” values. But at the same time, the president and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have made it clear that they do not want to let human rights interfere with other major issues, such as climate change, on which they need Chinese cooperation. Clinton made this point bluntly in Beijing in February, and Obama offered a concrete concession to China’s rulers when he decided to avoid the Dalai Lama in Washington in October.

But this approach is misguided in several ways. The Chinese government does not reciprocate when it is given things for free. It simply takes them and moves on. Foreigners may not know this, but to people in China it is plain as day.

More important, human rights in our society are not an isolated item that can be set aside while all else moves forward. Human rights are not just a humanitarian matter of helping a few dissidents get out of jail. They are a systemic problem that is connected to openness, rule of law, popular supervision of government and other values Obama hailed in Shanghai. Progress on many fronts will be easier if human rights are better observed.