Human rights can not be negotiated, but the human rights issues can


The high-level talks have become one of the most important ways to coordinate the economic policies between Western countries and China, and each talk has started with the issue of China’s human rights. However, Western politicians don’t really care about human rights what they really care about is economic profits and their own political careers.

Human rights, pursued and protected by all the human beings, should not be used as a bargaining chip in these high-level talks and should not be used as a means of forcing the Chinese government to compromise. In fact, the human rights have become a way for politicians to solve problems in their countries.

But while human rights cannot be negotiated, the human rights issues can.

On the one hand, China can express its understanding and its great efforts to improve the human rights in the country to challenge the misperceptions of the rest of the world. On the other hand, China can protect its national interests. For instance, export-oriented manufacturing will hurt by a higher exchange rate and a lot of workers will lose their jobs.

The human rights situation is not as clear-cut as the West likes to make out. During the Crusades, the colonialist slaughtering of indigenous people and the salve trade, did they really care about human rights? The United States has supported and kept in power military dictatorships when it suits their interests.

In the US, the Constitution represented citizens rights derived from the “Great Compromise” reached by the representatives from different states after months of negotiation. The meaning of “rights” is derived from countless bargaining. Women in the US finally won the right to vote in 1920; Martin Luther King was fighting for the equal rights of African-Americans in 1960s.

In the 1990s the US began to condemn China’s human rights situation. But behind those accusations are the agendas of politicians: First, the congressmen or Senators represent various interest groups and want votes from industries that are competing with China. Second, the opposition party always denounces the foreign policies of the ruling party deemed friendly to China. Third, congress will attack the administration on its China policies when it is controlled by the opposition party. For all these reasons, politicians accuse China of stealing US jobs, of currency manipulation that hurts the US economy, of being a threat to the US’ dominant status in the world, of human rights abuses. During the Clinton administration the situation was much like now.

It has been said that a typical Chinese person is likely to be misled by the political elite and its media about how good the government is, while a typical US citizen will be misled by the US political elite and media about the rest of the world.

We should be thankful for the human rights experiences of Western countries, but the Chinese people are the only ones the government should be responsible to on the country’s human rights issues. However, China should not make concessions that will hurt the national economy, especially when Western countries are pressuring the government to change its currency policies. China should improve its capability to propose new issues, strengthen its bargaining strategies so it does not follow the agenda proposed by Western countries and not make too many concessions while improving the country’s human rights.

The author Yang Jingmin is an intern editor of She can be reached at

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One Reply to “Human rights can not be negotiated, but the human rights issues can”

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