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BY ALICIA CONSTANT
July 20, 2005: Lin Hongying, a 56-year-old woman farmer, was beaten to death by police in Jiangsu. (Biao and Jia 2) April 3, 2008: Hu Jia, a human rights activist who fought for justice in China, is sentenced to three and a half years in prison on falsified charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” (Casey) March 14-15, 2008: unrest in Tibet and a violent crackdown by police sparks international protests. These examples are only a few of the black marks on China’s human rights record, and the reason why China is the greatest challenge facing the Foreign Service in the 21st century.
During the countdown to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China’s record of denying its citizens basic rights of life, liberty, and property, despite guarantees in Articles 33-41 of China’s constitution, has gained worldwide awareness. For example, in March, Tibetan leaders estimated that more than 140 Tibetans were dead and hundreds to thousands of others wounded, detained, or facing starvation in the aftermath of what began as a peaceful demonstration. China’s censorship of journalists and citizens makes assessing the actual damage nearly impossible. (Shrestha) In order to “clean up” the streets of China for the Olympics, police have sent many human rights activists, impoverished Chinese, and governmental dissidents to prisons or labor camps. As of 2007, an estimated 1.25 million people have had their houses forcibly demolished without compensation in order to make way for Olympic construction. (Biao and Jia 2) China has also consistently enforced the one-child rule, forcing women who have more than one child to undergo an abortion. (China: Country Reports) China’s long-standing history of human rights abuses has sparked protests by activists along the route of the Olympic torch from London, to Paris, to San Francisco.
The U.S. Foreign Service, a world leader in democracy and individual rights, faces multidimensional challenges in its effort to improve human rights in China. The U.S. has not attempted to resolve the human rights issue diplomatically since 2004, when talks were broken off after 12 rounds of unproductive dialogue. However, China has recently announced that it is “ready to resume the human rights dialogue,” (“Rice, Chinese F.M.”) and talks are scheduled for spring 2008. In order to resolve this problem, Ambassador Randt, President Bush, the Commercial Officer, and all other officials of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing must unite in a collateral effort to promote a strong U.S. presence in China. While engaging in diplomatic talks on human rights, the ambassador must represent and promote U.S. foreign policy to the Chinese government and influence China to make the right choices. (Dorman 10-11) China’s recent collaboration with the UN to end the violence in Darfur demonstrates that consistent pressure by U.S. diplomats is succeeding. (Christensen).
To send a strong international message about China’s human rights record, many protestors have demanded that President Bush boycott the Olympics or refrain from attending the opening ceremonies. In a June 2007 statement, the State Department rejected the option of an Olympic boycott on the basis that it would only cause bitterness among the Chinese people, destroy the progress already made by U.S. diplomats towards resuming talks on human rights, and deprive American athletes of the chance for a gold medal. (Green) China has already accused the U.S. of “clinging to a Cold War mentality” (Labbott and FlorCruz) and a boycott would confirm this false assumption by reflecting the 1980 U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics. According to President Bush, the upcoming Olympics should be a “moment where China's leaders can … show confidence by demonstrating a commitment to greater openness and tolerance [in Chinese society].” (Green) Instead of a boycott, the Foreign Service should use the Olympics as an opportunity to urge China closer to a free society by emphasizing the benefits of respecting human rights.
Because the United States and China are becoming increasingly economically interdependent, their relationship is one of the most critical and complex in the world. In the past five years, U.S. exports to China have increased from $18 to $52 billion, while U.S. imports from China have grown from $102 to $287 billion. (“Remarks”) This relationship is further complicated by the United States’ $232.5 billion bilateral trade deficit. (U.S. House) The Commercial Officer and the entire Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) play an important role in maintaining a healthy economic relationship while encouraging American companies to sell to China and further increasing U.S. exports. (Dorman 22-23) The FCS must urge China to respect intellectual property rights and crack down on the rampant piracy that has cost U.S. companies 2.5 billion dollars in lost sales. (Congressional Research Service) By reducing the U.S. trade deficit, we can decrease our economic dependence on China and gain leverage to promote our human rights values.
Improving human rights in China will be beneficial to both the Chinese people and the United States by encouraging China’s stability and further economic growth. China will gain the respect of the international community and loyalty from its own people. As President Bush noted, “By meeting the legitimate demands of its citizens for freedom and openness, China's leaders can help their country grow into a modern, prosperous, and confident nation.” (“U.S. Sees Progress”) Change of any kind requires time. Although the Olympics have raised international awareness of China’s human rights situation, they alone will not be enough to fully resolve this issue. Through persistent diplomacy in the 21st century, the members of the U.S. Foreign Service will continue to progress toward the day when the Chinese people will be free from governmental repression. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared, “No corner of the Earth is permanently condemned to tyranny. Change may take time, but change will come.”
Christensen, Thomas. “Shaping China’s Global Choices through Diplomacy.” U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission. U.S. Dept. of State, 2008. 10 Apr. 2008.
Dorman, Shawn, ed. Inside a U.S. Embassy. Washington, D.C.: American Foreign Service Association, 2005.
Green, Eric. “Views Mixed on Boycotting 2008 Beijing Olympics.” America.gov. 19 Nov. 2007. 5 Apr. 2008.
Labott, Elise, and Jaime FlorCruz. “China Rejects U.S. Attack on Human Rights.” CNN News. 12 March 2008. 10 Apr. 2008.
People’s Republic of China. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. Ch. II, Articles 33-41 and Amendment 4, Article 24.
Shrestha, Manesh. “Tibet Protesters Claim Death Toll Now 140.” CNN News. 25 March 2008. 10 Apr. 2008.
Biao, Teng, and Hu Jia, “The Real China and the Olympics,” letter to the international community, Human Rights Watch, 27 September 2007.
United States. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. China: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. 11 Mar. 2008. 3 Apr. 2008.
---. Congressional Research Service. China-U.S. Relations: Current Issues and Implications for U.S. Policy. By Kerry Dumbaugh. Apr. 2008. 14 Apr. 2008.
---. Dept. of State. “China: Verdict on Activist Hu Jia.” Press Statement. By Tom Casey. 3 Apr. 2008. 10 Apr. 2008.
---. ---. Fact Sheet: U.S. - China Relations. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2006.
---. ---. U.S. Embassy, Beijing. “Remarks by Ambassador Alan F. Holmer at Qinghua University Entitled ‘Establishing New Habits of Cooperation in U.S.-China Economic Relations.’” 14 Nov. 2007. 10 Apr. 2008.
---. ---. “Rice, Chinese Foreign Minister Joint Press Availability in Beijing.” February 2008. Accessed 10 April 2008. Transcript.
---. House of Representatives. Committee on Foreign Affairs. Testimony of Deputy Secretary John D. Negroponte: The Future of Political, Economic and Security Relations with China. Washington: GPO, 2007.