US Defends Value of Human Rights Dialogue

At a Wednesday briefing on this week’s two-day U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue in Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner noted a number of cases raised during the talks, including Xinjiang and Tibet, and individuals including Liu Xiaobo, Gao Zhisheng, Ni Yulan and Chen Guangcheng’s nephew Chen Kegui. Human rights organisations have criticised the annual talks as a diplomatic smoke screen obscuring a lack of real progress. From Rebecca Berg at The New York Times:

Mr. Posner was reporting on the latest session of an annual human rights dialogue with China, which took place this week in Washington and included representatives from American and Chinese government agencies. During the meetings, he said, the State Department addressed China’s abuses of free expression on the Internet and in public, its persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, and its inhumane labor practices, among other human rights issues. For their part, Chinese officials raised concerns about the United States’ record on human rights, particularly in areas of discrimination and prison conditions.

“The point that we made, which I feel very confident and proud to make, is that we have human rights issues in the United States, but we also have a very strong system to respond to them,” Mr. Posner said, citing access to legal representation for all citizens, a free press and a “robust” culture of political engagement.

[…] Critics say that merely raising concerns with the Chinese government, as the United States does in this dialogue each year, is an exercise in diplomatic futility. The State Department insists that the discussions are one facet of a larger strategy.

Posner attempted to address this criticism during questions after the briefing:

QUESTION: […] I’m just wondering if you could tell us, from your perspective, what this dialogue has accomplished in concrete terms. I mean, every year you come up, you say that they take on our complaints or our things onboard. but I’ve never seen – but you, yourself, are saying the situation is deteriorating. For those who are interested in human rights in China, why is this dialogue really worth the time that it takes to do it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We take our lead from those within China who are advocating for human rights and who are on the receiving end of improper actions. What people in China tell us – lawyers, activists, people whose family members are detained – is that it’s critically important for us to raise these issues, raise specific cases, to do so privately, to do so publicly, to do so on an ongoing basis, and not forget about them. This is a piece of that effort. It’s not the only effort. We work on these issues 365 days a year. I’m not the only one raising these concerns.

But this is an opportunity for us to go into these cases and these issues in greater depth and to appear, as I am here today, to make clear what our concerns are. We will continue to raise these issues throughout the year, and I think over time we’re responding to a very heartfelt desire by people living in China that these issues – that their cases, their issues, not be forgotten.

We’re amplifying their voices, in effect. And as I said in my opening statement, there’s greater attention to these issues by Chinese people on the web, in the blogs. These are issues that are now commanding greater attention.

A Global Times report, on the other hand, was fairly dismissive of the process, stating that the US would “continue its preaching” without applying real pressure:

“If we put this under the larger context of China-US relations, we can expect the dialogue to be fairly routine, much like in the past few years,” said Liu Weidong, a researcher at the Institute of American Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Human rights issues are not really a priority with US politicians, as they are much more concerned with their economy and security strategy, said Liu.

“The US is more concerned over whether China will pose a threat to its role in the Asia Pacific, or if the territorial disputes in the region might affect its strategic deployment here,” he said.

[…] To show its commitment to advancing human rights, China published two national action plans on human rights in 2009 and 2012.