You can never run out of topics on the China–U.S. relationship, especially during the Chinese president’s visit to America: from the reception at the airport, the list of attendants, the menu at the state dinner and other “quintessential American experiences” to familiar topics such as the currency exchange rate, nuclear disputes on the Korean Peninsula, nuclear disputes in Iran, sovereignty issues with Taiwan, global warming and other issues related to the interests of the two countries.
There is also one topic that is less important than a country’s core interests but far more important than the formality of the visit — the issues around human rights.
The Topic of Human Rights Came Up in Five Different Events
During President’s Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States, the topic of human rights has been mentioned at five different important events. The first time was during President Obama’s speech at the White House reception. Although his welcome speech only mentioned “universal rights” and did not literally bring up the phrase “human rights,” from the events following the reception during President Hu’s visit, we could conclude that human rights were indeed at least part of the “universal rights.”
The second time was in the China–U.S. Joint Statement. After the paragraph on the sovereignty disputes of Taiwan, human rights were mentioned in the seventh paragraph of the joint statement, which stated “China and the United States reiterated their commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, even as they continue to have significant differences on these issues. … Addressing differences on human rights in a spirit of equality and mutual respect, as well as promoting and protecting human rights consistent with international instruments, the two sides agreed to hold the next round of the China–U.S. Human Rights Dialogue before the third round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.” It was not the first time that human rights were included in a China–U.S. joint statement; it was also included in the joint statement published during President Obama’s visit to China back in November 2009. This time, however, a whole paragraph was dedicated solely to human rights to address its importance.
The third, fourth and fifth time that human rights were brought up was during a press conference, a state dinner and a rare intimate dinner. During these three events, everyone from the president to the media was pressing China on human rights issues, acting as though if they did not push it, human rights in China would not be improved or would even go backward.
The True Nature of the Human Rights Disputes
There are three reasons why China has been a regular target on human rights records by Western countries. First, China is still not developed enough to completely ensure basic human rights at the moment. As President Hu Jintao said to Hans Nichols from Bloomberg, “China is developing with a huge population, and also a developing country in a crucial stage of reform. In this context, China still faces many challenges in economic and social development, and a lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights.” In China, around 30 million people are still living in poverty. Once China sets a higher poverty line, the figure would even increase.
Second, historic events still have lingering influence on the Chinese people. For a long period of time in ancient China, people were governed under the rule of man, not the rule of law. Even nowadays, this mentality is still embedded in the minds of China’s citizens, including the upper class and even a small amount of government officials. Under this dated philosophy, regular citizens do not have the awareness to protect their rights, and some government officials are rough and binary when problems arise, which creates some human rights violations in China.
The cultural differences are the last and the most dominant factor. Every country and every race has its own unique way of living and handling problems. The leaders of China understand the challenges within China more than anyone else from other countries, including those so-called China specialists. During Chinese New Year, it is Chinese tradition to only report good, happy news, a tradition on which Chinese culture has been and will continue to be based on. This does not mean that the leaders of China are ignoring the existing problems within their country during holidays. The same thing applies to President Hu’s trip to the United States. Isn’t it true that America is avoiding bringing up sensitive issues to China in order to provide a harmonious atmosphere to this visit? Isn’t it true that they are avoiding damaging the relationship between the two countries? There were numerous examples in history on how cultural differences led to misunderstanding and provoked conflicts and even wars. A classic example could be found in deceased American scholar Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.”
The Usage of Human Rights
In the United States (and many other Western countries), the “human rights activists” who are pushing China on the human rights issue are mainly politicians and reporters. In contrast, American and other Western officials find more ways to utilize the human rights report. The topic on human rights only comes about as an official topic when the U.S. government is under pressure or is “begging for support” from its fellow politicians. Why are Western countries so restlessly pursuing human rights in China?
On top of the cultural differences mentioned before, there are at least two other hidden factors.
First and foremost, it is to protect America’s interest. From accepting Xinjiang activists such as Rebiya Kadeer into America, supporting rebels led by the Tibetan Youth Congress and using human rights as an excuse to sell military weapons to Taiwan to putting pressure on raising the renminbi’s value, all were done to protect America’s interests. All of these actions not only affect China’s core interest, but it also restricts China’s development because it costs China an enormous amount of manpower, resources and money to handle them. If these issues are not handled properly, it would severely weaken China’s power and America would be the one collecting profits on the side.
Second, it allows America to demonstrate its supremacy. Since the day the U.S. was established, Americans have always thought of the Anglo-Saxons as the superior race. They think America is at the top of the world and that its system is better than any other system. Hence, they have the responsibility to save other countries and their citizens from “sufferings.” After WWII and the Cold War, this sense of “responsibility” exploded and started to overflow. Every year, America makes the human rights report to give out advice and criticism to other countries in the world without restraint. America spends its resources on making the records for two main reasons. First and foremost, to showcase its supremacy. Second, to pressure those who have poor human rights records
In conclusion, this so-called human rights issue is caused by cultural differences. These cultural differences, with countries’ interests at stake, along with America’s pursuit of supremacy, are overly exaggerated by America and other Western countries. America uses its unique role in foreign policies to control and manipulates opinions. She makes right seem wrong and deliberately misrepresents. With the help of her alliances, America’s tactic has been successful, as many countries give in to the pressure.
During his visit, President Hu Jintao’s agreement on human rights being one of the “universal rights” does not demonstrate America’s victory on the issue. In fact, it shows that China is progressing on human rights. Moreover, China is showing more confidence when America and other Western countries bring up this so-called human rights issue.
Translated By Alice Cwern