China Rejects Clinton’s Human Rights Comments

Earlier this week in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized China’s “deplorable” human rights record and characterized the Chinese government’s attempt to suppress democratic reform as a “fool’s errand”, citing the recent revolutions in the Middle East as an example. The Chinese government has now issued its own response, rejecting any attempt to draw similarities between China’s situation and the  democratic uprisings in the Middle East . From the Associated Press:

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said late Friday that it is wrong to compare China to countries that have faced recent unrest.

“It is inappropriate for anyone to relate or compare China to some west Asian and north African nations facing turmoil,” Jiang said in a statement on the ministry’s website.

“And any attempt to direct the Middle East turmoil to China and change the development path chosen by the Chinese people will be futile,” she said.

Jiang made the statement when asked to respond to Clinton’s comments earlier in the week in an interview with Atlantic magazine in which she was quoted as saying that China’s human rights record was “deplorable” and that history was not on the side of governments that resist democracy.

Clinton’s remarks seems to be a reflect a shift in the Obama Administration’s strategy towards China. As recently as 2009, Clinton had downplayed the issue of human rights violations in China.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broached the issue of human rights with Chinese leaders on Saturday, but emphasized that the global financial slump and other international crises were more pressing and immediate priorities.

The United States will continue to press China on issues such as Tibet, Taiwan and human rights, she told reporters accompanying her.

“Successive administrations and Chinese governments have been poised back and forth on these issues, and we have to continue to press them. But our pressing on those issues can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis,” she told reporters in Seoul, South Korea.

Since the beginning of 2011 the Obama Administration has been emphasizing human rights in China much more strongly than it has before. From China Law and Policy:

Clinton was surprisingly blunt when it came to China’s human rights record and didn’t just portray human rights as a peculiar aspect of the American culture (see President Obama’s talk to Shanghai students in November 2009 for this approach).  Instead, Clinton emphasized the universality of certain human rights and highlighted the fact that China is a signatory to many United Nations human rights treaties.  The United States is not interfering with China’s domestic politics; instead the United States is merely requesting that China fulfill its human rights obligations, obligations it voluntary agreed to.

But Clinton went further and mentioned specific dissidents, including the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo who is currently languishing in a Chinese prison; rights defending attorney Chen Guangcheng who since his release from prison has been subject to repeat police harassment; and missing rights defending attorney Gao Zhisheng.   Clinton stressed that as long as people like these three continue to advocate peacefully within the confines of the law, China should not persecute them.  Clinton poetically commented that the empty seat for Liu Xiaobo at last month’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony symbolizes China’s unrealized potential.  Clinton stressed that these human rights are necessary to China’s success; freedom of speech is essential to fostering free thought that leads to technological and scientific advancement and a vibrant civil society addresses social-economic problems that are currently one the regime’s biggest fears.

The Obama Administration has a new policy on China – it’s tougher, more logical and stresses the importance of human rights.

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