Should U.S. Pressure China More on Human Rights?

Editor’s Note: The U.S.-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue will take place in Beijing on May 3-4. The agenda was overshadowed by the unexpected stay at and subsequent departure from the U.S. Embassy of the Chinese blind activist Chen Guangchengin. In a discussion moderated by NPR’s Judy Woodruff, Kenneth Leiberthal and Sophie Richardson examined the Obama administration’s dealings with China and the issue of human rights in the upcoming bilateral talks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So how do you size up how the Obama administration has done in dealing with this [China’s record on human rights]?

SOPHIE RICHARDSON: Well, the administration, I think, got off to quite a wobbly start in the first year-and-a-half, but sort of I think found its voice and found some greater confidence to talk about these issues and engage in some of the more established diplomatic practices.

I don’t know that they really kept up necessarily as the situation has deteriorated over the last year-and-a-half. And what we would really like to see them do is not just integrate human rights concerns across a much broader and more complicated bilateral relationship than what the U.S. and China had 10 or 15 years ago, but to also do a better job of not just welcoming the Chinese government’s rise, as is mentioned in almost every speech, but to also welcome the rise of people like Chen Guangcheng and the work that they’re trying to do to hold their own government accountable, largely because that’s consistent with what the administration has said it wants.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, of course, you’re referring to the dissent [Chen Guangcheng] who is, we think, it is believed, is in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Ken Lieberthal, what about that, I mean, the words she used, got off to a wobbly start, maybe hasn’t been consistent? How do you see the Obama administration handling of human rights?

KENNETH LIEBERTHAL, Brookings Institution: I actually will give them somewhat higher marks than Sophie.

I think the administration decided from the start that China’s a major power. We have got an array of very, very serious issues that we have to deal with them on, nuclear proliferation, North Korea, now the South China Sea, a vast array of economic and trade issues and human rights issues.

So the administration’s approach has been quite clear from the start. We will stress human rights and push that as effectively as we can, but we can’t let any one of these issues, nuclear proliferation, human rights, economic and trade, whatever it is, to be a precondition of making progress in the other areas, because each of these areas is vital for U.S. security, prosperity, and our relationships throughout the world.

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