Friday, September 2, 2016

It’s Time to Rethink the World’s Approach to Human Rights in China

Sophie Richardson, "It’s Time to Rethink the World’s Approach to Human Rights in China,"

uncaptioned image from article
Beijing simply does not believe that respecting human rights will produce more peaceful, stable outcomes in the regions of Tibet or Xinjiang, or that tolerating peaceful criticism is critical to China’s future. Increasingly, it construes all manner of behavior it does not like as a threat to national security. And while many governments recognize Beijing’s abusive trends, few are willing to consider leveling meaningful consequences in response, often privately lamenting their lack of leverage.
But the United States, the E.U., and others are able to find their voices and their leverage when China’s conduct on national security or economic issues proves problematic. Do they wring their hands, fretting about Chinese leaders’ “face” — as they often do when privately explaining why they don’t engage in stronger public diplomacy on human rights issues — when discussing China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Seas? No; the U.S. deploys guided missile destroyers through those waters, proving a point about freedom of navigation. When Beijing or its agents hack large government-run databases of critical information, do governments limit themselves to raising these issues on the sidelines in a closed-door meeting? No; they summon to their capitals senior Chinese government officials and explain that, on the eve of a state visit, sanctions against individuals and organizations will ensue if the attacks don’t stop. And indeed the attacks abate. ...
Decades of experience should make clear to Washington, Brussels, and others that Beijing responds only to the expectation of unpleasant consequences. It’s hardly only their fault that the human rights situation in China has deteriorated, but it’s equally clear that their standard tools — primarily private persuasion, occasionally public condemnation or modest engagement with Chinese officials — have not produced the desired results. ...
No matter how well-intentioned, no matter how consistent, and no matter how passionately argued, efforts to persuade Beijing that its self-interest depends on better respect for human rights have failed. The regime in Beijing is bent on systematically crushing independent civil society, producing laws that provide the thinnest of legal veneers to the worst rights violations, and exporting its lawless behavior. Absent immediate, painful consequences to Beijing for its actions, no number of statements will stem the tide of abuse. And that leaves the country at greater risk of instability — a frightening prospect for everyone.

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