Posts tagged: Human Rights

Running on Empty? A Missing Assistant Secretary of State

By , April 8, 2013

Is anyone else confused as to why the position of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs remains empty?  Especially as North Korea all but prepares for war?  Two months after its former occupant – Kurt Campbell – stepped down on February 8, 2013, Secretary Kerry – who was sworn in on February 1 – has yet to fill the position.  True former Deputy Assistant Secretary Joseph Yun has capably stepped in, but the question remains – what signal are you giving to the region, especially North Korea, when you don’t officially fill the position?

Hopefully Secretary Kerry is feeling the pressure.  But who will fill the spot?  Here are some names that have been mentioned by others:

  • Joseph Yun – the current Acting secretary and former Deputy Assistant Secretary, of Korean descent and familiar with the issues on the Korean peninsula.
  • Daniel Russel – currently the National Security Council (NSC) Director for Asian Affairs.  While he started his career as a Japan guy, arguably you can’t be NSC Director for Asian Affairs without knowing alot about the Korean peninsula and problems with China.
  • Frank Jannuzi – currently head of Amnesty International’s Washington office, but has decades of experience in DC policy circles, serving close to ten years in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and then 15 years as the policy director of East Asia and Pacific Affairs on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Out of these three names, Jannuzi would likely be the best pick.  And not just because China Law & Policy is partial to policy makers who are North Korea's increasingly belligerent behavior China hands (and speak Mandarin).  China will always be the big issue in the region, and Jannuzi likely has the most intimate knowledge of the country.  But he has also long served as an important and knowledgeable resource on North Korea.  Not to mention, that he served as a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while Kerry was a Senator on the Committee (and eventually Ranking member).  To the extent that Kerry is looking for someone he already knows and can trust, that would be Jannuzi.

Jannuzi would be also be an exciting pick because of what the choice would signal to China’s new leadership.  Jannuzi would come back to government after serving at Amnesty International, a very active human rights group that has long been a thorn in China’s side.  Such a choice would  subtly indicate to China that human rights will continue to be on the agenda.

But in looking at the possible nominees and the current senior officials of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, a truly inspiring pick would be a woman.  Out of the eleven senior officials listed on the Bureau’s website, only one currently is a woman.

Prof. Susan Shirk

And that’s why we think there is a good possibility that Susan Shirk – even though she is in academia – is in the running.  Shirk is a professor of political science out at UC-San Diego.  She has also long been an influential thinker on China.  China: Fragile Superpower altered the way that many policymakers viewed China.  Similar to Jannuzi, her knowledge of China comes from a longstanding relationship with the country and its people.  She has had an important part in US-North Korea relations – she all but founded and continues to lead the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, a high-level official dialogue between the two countries.  Finally,  she has experience at State, serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and in seeing her speak on multiple occasions, she has command of a room that is astounding.  The question is – will she want to leave beautiful San Diego for DC?

The one person  we are not putting our money on – Dennis RodmanHis trip in March to North Korea was just plain bizarre.  Hanging out with Kim Jong Un without even acknowledge the suffering of millions of North Koreans at the regime’s hands was also extremely offensive.  That alone would put Rodman out of the running.  But more than anything, do we really want an Assistant Secretary that can’t win at Celebrity Apprentice for a second time?

Tiananmen 23 Years Later: An Unknown History?

For the great majority of young mainland Chinese, the events of the Tiananmen Massacre have never entered their consciousness; they have never seen the photographs and news reports about it, and even fewer have their family or teachers ever explained it to them. They have not forgotten it; they have never known anything about it.”

So ends Chan Koonchung’s The Fat Years, an allegorical novel set in the near-future Beijing, where China is the only prosperous nation left after the great global economic meltdown of 2008. Most of its citizens are happy – unnaturally so – and fully satisfied with the materialism of their new lives.

But there is a small group of misfits- led by Fang Caodi – that is searching for a missing month from 2008 where martial law was imposed so that the government could bring on the fat years. All remnants of that month have been erased from society’s collective memory: newspapers published during that month no longer exist and no one ever speaks of it. It’s as if it never occurred. Fang and his posse go all over the country, trying to find any evidence of that missing month and trying to find more people like them: people who remember. They find almost no one but then hatch a plan to kidnap a high level government official and interrogate him. They find out about a government intent on guaranteeing that the mistakes of its pass are forgotten and only China’s glorious future is remembered.

Make no mistake, Chan is not talking about a missing month in 2008. What Chan is discussing are the seven weeks that led up to the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen massacre, where martial law was imposed, high-level Chinese officials ordered the army to open fire on its own people, and hundreds of unarmed student protestors were estimated to have been killed.

On Monday the world will mark the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. But Mainland China will not. Every year, the anniversary of Tiananmen, known as Liu Si in Chinese, is forgotten on mainland China, unless you count the Chinese government’s stepped up security of Tiananmen Square and random detention of activists as a commemorating event.

Around June 1, 1989, over a million students converge on Beijing's Tiananmen Square

For 23 years, there has been no public mention of the Tiananmen massacre and aside from hushed whispers among older Chinese, in particular the Tiananmen Mothers who bravely try to keep the murder of their children alive, there is little private discussion of the event. The Chinese government’s 23 years of silence concerning Tiananmen isn’t just denial. It’s been a concerted and fairly effective effort to erase Tiananmen, and the government’s bloody actions on the night of June 3, 1989, from China’s collective memory.

Mainland Chinese born after 1989 largely do not know anything about the events surrounding those seven weeks 23 years ago nor the bloody repression on the night of June 3 into the early morning hours of June 4. To the extent that they have heard anything about it – from a professor who might have supported the students in 1989 or from a family member who was there – their recollections are muddied at best.

Chan’s The Fat Years is a warning: that the Chinese must not forget the past; that they must continue to remember. But that warning is mixed with the reality that perhaps some Chinese do want to forget, especially the young. Compared to 1989, times have never been better. Why rock the boat? Why be bothered with your parent’s history?  And that is Chan’s second note of caution to the Chinese: do not be lulled into acceptance by materialism.

But those messages will not be heard in China.  In keeping with their efforts to annihilate Tiananmen from collective memory,the Chinese government has banned The Fat Years. In the introduction to the English translation, Julia Lovell notes that the book has still

A rickshaw driver ferries two dying students on he morning of June 4, 1989

made its way around dissident circles in Beijing. But dissidents in Beijing are a small, insular group; the vast majority of Chinese will remain unaware.  The fact that today’s dissidents and rights activists still remember Tiananmen is one weakness in the Chinese government’s goal and might explain the two-year crackdown on activists.

For the first few years after the Tiananmen massacre, the question was, how long will the Chinese government refuse to investigate the murder of hundreds of Chinese students. Twenty-three years later, now the question is, will the Chinese ever know their own history? As time passes, memories fade, Tiananmen mothers die, and the Chinese Communist Party remains in power, the answer seems to be leaning toward no.

That is why we must never forget June 4, 1989 and continue to memorialize and investigate the events. As censorship increases in China, the western world is ironically becoming the repository of China’s modern history. Eventually, the Chinese people will demand that they be allowed to learn their own history; eventually they will be free to decide for their own what aspects of their history that they want to commemorate and what they want to forget.  Eventually, the West’s repository of knowledge will be accessed by the Chinese.

Chan’s The Fat Years should not be read for its literary style. At many points the narrative really slows down and “near future Beijing” is actually 2013, making it difficult for the current English reader of translation to find it even slightly believable. It also appears to peter out toward the end with the main characters just fading from the page. But for the ideas that the book presents about modern day China and its potential future, it is an important read.  Especially today, on this anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Fat Years: A Novel, by Chan Koonchung (Nan A. Talese, 2012), 336 pages.

A BBC news report from the early morning of June 4, 1989

What is Up with Chen Guangcheng?

Chen Guangcheng, entering a Beijing Hospital with US Ambassaor Gary Locke and State Dep't Legal Advisor Harold Koh

More often than not, I am my friends’ go-to China person; something in the news pops up with China, I get the questions.  So I wasn’t surprised on Saturday when over some carrot cake at the Chelsea Market a friend of mine had questions about Chen Guangcheng: if he cared so much about human rights in China, why would he leave?  What is up with the Chinese government, keeping a blind man trapped in his own home?  How did things get so messy between the U.S. government and Chen?

It’s been almost a month since Chen fled the home that illegally became his prison. So what exactly is up with Chen’s escape and to answer some questions – what does it all mean?

Chen’s Escape Has Propelled Human Rights to the Top of the US-China Agenda

My friend’s question on Saturday caught me off guard – does Chen really care about human rights in China if he fled to the protection of the U.S. Embassy, ostensibly to seek asylum and leave China.

To ask a man with a wife and two children to be a martyr for his cause is asking too much.  As this blog has recounted previously, since Chen’s release from prison (oddly convicted of a traffic disturbance) did not result in freedom.  Instead, for the past year and a half, Chen and his family have been subjected to illegal house arrest and at times, physical torture by his captures.

It is true that by departing China, Chen’s ability to change China’s current system will be much reduced if not extinguished.  But his heroic flight has perhaps done more to highlight the Chinese government’s recent illegal oppression of dissent than anything else.  Over the past year and a half, this blog has increasingly written about the Chinese government’s crackdown on China’s nascent rights defending (weiquan) lawyers. Aside from people already interested in the issues, these posts – and the acts of repression which they have focused on – have received little attention.

Chen’s escape and his subsequent stay at the U.S. Embassy  altered this focus. With Hillary Clinton arriving for the Strategic and Economic

Inspiring Architecture? The US Embassy in Beijing

Dialogue (S&ED), the focus of U.S.-China relations shifted to human rights.  For one week, as the world watched, the U.S. and China’s relationship was thrown back to a 1980s-Cold War paradigm, when ideology played a more governing role.  For one week, the Western media’s attention finally focused on the repression of rights defending lawyers, and the lip service the Chinese government gives “rule of law” when it comes to civil rights and civil liberties.

It is amazing that a single man’s act, that one blind man’s heroic act, can still change the dialogue in U.S.-China relations.  It is a hopeful reminder that in this globalized world, individuals still matter; that one man’s quest for freedom is still “news.”  And don’t think Chen’s act was not a heroic one.  Not only was a blind man able to find his way to Beijing, but imagine if he wasn’t; imagine if he was caught.  Likely his fate would match that of Gao Zhisheng, a rights defending lawyer who, while in government custody, remains missing.

The U.S. Government’s Actions Supported Human Rights

Some have criticized the U.S. government – or more aptly, the Obama Administration – for its dealings with the Chinese government over Chen.  Initially, the U.S. Embassy worked out a deal with the Chinese government whereby Chen would stay in China, study law at a university in a coastal city away from the thugs of his hometown, and be left alone with his family.  This was what Chen initially wanted.

But once he left the safety of the embassy for a Beijing hospital, Chen began to reconsider his options.  As Prof. Jerome A. Cohen recounted to CNN, the promised U.S. Embassy official was unable to stay with Chen at the hospital and once he began speaking other rights defending lawyers – friends he hadn’t been able to speak to for a year – he began to more clearly understand the increased oppression of rights defending lawyers in China.  Chen was scared; Chen realized that without full information, he misjudged the situation.  That’s when he vocally requested that he be able to leave China for the United States.

Were some in the U.S. Embassy a touch too naive to rely on the Chinese government’s promises?  Most likely.  But being naive is not the same as turning one’s back to human rights.  It was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to allow Chen into the U.S. Embassy in the first place.  Chinese citizens cannot just willy-nilly enter the U.S. Embassy; even American citizens are allowed limited access to their embassy (which resembles a high-security prison).  As the N.Y. Times has recounted, embassy officials were notified of Chen’s flight to Beijing and on April 25, Secretary Clinton gave the authorization to sneak Chen into the embassy compound.  Secretary Clinton knew full well that by providing that approval, a throw-down with the Chinese government on the issue of human rights was certain and the ultimate outcome unclear. It is unfortunate – although not all together shocking given the current acrimonious status of politics – that Washington D.C. cannot view this moment as a proud one for America and its ideals; that the web of support that both parties have built for a human rights network in China over the years enabled Chen to come to our door.   Instead, it appears that what could otherwise be a proud moment for Americans, is becoming a political tug-of-war.

Who is Driving the Bus? The Chinese Central Government’s Lack of Control

Beep Beep! Who drives this bus??

What is perhaps the most shocking of all from this whole situation is the Chinese central government’s lack of control of local governments. Chen’s persecution has largely been conducted by the local government in his hometown, with local government officials still seething after his attempt to bring a lawsuit against them for forced abortions.  But even when Chen fled to Beijing, his safety could not be guaranteed, hence his changed desire to leave for the United States.  Many of his relatives left in their villages are being persecuted by local officials.  It makes one wonder – who really drives the bus in China?

Imagine a United States where Governor George Wallace could ignore federal law, have his way and continue segregation in his home state of Alabama.  Likely you can’t.  It’s unfathomable to think that a national government is unable to enforce its own laws, and in the case of China, that a supposed authoritarian dictatorship cannot control lower level party members.

Chen’s case reflects a center weaker than anyone previously thought.  And that is what is most frightening and should give people pause.  Does China really have the power to become a rising superpower or will it revert to its warlord past, where each city is governed by its own power broker and the central government remains impotent?

While China’s weakness appears to manifest itself often in human rights issues, it should not be just a concern for human rights advocates.  Anyone working in or with China – business people, government officials – should be troubled.  A weak center, especially as China undergoes an important leadership transition this year, does not bode well for China.

Prof. Jerome Cohen – The Fixer

On a final note, I want to focus on Prof. Jerome Cohen and his role in all of this.  As a research fellow for two years, I had the privilege of working

Prof. Jerome A. Cohen

with Prof. Cohen at NYU’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute.  In that time, I got to know a kind, brilliant man who never ceased to amaze me.  It was Prof. Cohen who first identified the ingenuity and necessity of Chen’s unschooled, “barefoot lawyer” approach in 2003 and deservedly catapulted him to the world stage.

While my two years with Prof. Cohen were filled with inspiring moments, I have never been more proud of him than I was with his handling of the Chen Guangcheng situation.  While this is all purely based on hearsay, it appears that it was Prof.  Cohen who got the U.S. and China out of what was becoming a crisis situation.  Prof. Cohen’s lifetime of experience with China, including high-level delegations soon after Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, allowed him to realize that all that was needed was a practical solution where everyone could save face: a scholarship for Chen to study law at NYU’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute and invitation for his wife and children to join him.

Now we wait and see.  The United States has approved Chen’s visa application and just yesterday he applied for his Chinese passport.  Although the Chinese government could renege on the deal, that looks increasingly less likely and ultimately not in their best interest.  It’s never a satisfying moment when one of your citizens essentially seeks protection from a foreign government for human rights abuses, but on some level, the Chinese government is likely happy that Chen, who has long been a rabble rouser and a cause célèbre for other Chinese rights defenders and foreign friends, is leaving the country.  Unfortunately for Chen and his family, he will likely never be able to return to his home country.

Blind Activist Escapes House Arrest in China

By , April 27, 2012

From the NY Times on Friday, April 27, 2012.

BEIJING — Chen Guangcheng, the blind rights lawyer who has been under extralegal house arrest in his rural village for the past 19 months, has escaped from his heavily guarded home and is in hiding in the capital, rights advocates and Chinese officials said on Friday.American officials would not confirm reports that Mr. Chen had entered the American Embassy. A source in the Chinese Ministry of State Security said Mr. Chen was believed to be there on Friday. Previously, early Thursday evening, a Chinese analyst cited another State Security source who said that Mr. Chen had taken refuge in the embassy.To read more click here.

NYC Event: China’s Influence on International Human Rights – April 13

By , April 11, 2012

China’s rise raises a lot of questions for the rest of the world.  How will it flex its increasing military might?  What impact will its insatiable demand for resources have on the rest of the world?  Will its economy overtake the US’ in the near future?

Another question that is being raised with more frequency is: as China becomes a more equal player on the world stage, how will its views of human rights impact the development of international human rights laws and the role of the United Nations.

On Friday, April 13, RightsLink, a human rights law research organization based out of Columbia Law School, will host a forum examining exactly the issue of China’s influence on international human rights discourse.  It is likely inevitable that China will begin to have a louder voice on the human rights world stage, but is that destined to be a bad thing?  Find out on Friday at what will likely prove to be a thought-provoking discussion.

 

Rightslink Henkin Forum: Rise of China and Its Influence on Human Rights

Friday, April 13th, 2012
1:30 – 4:30 (2 Panel Discussions – see below)
Columbia Law School

Room 103, Jerome Greene Hall
435 W 116th Street
Box Lunches will be Served

Schedule
1:30 – 2:45 pm   China, the UN, and  Influence on International Human Rights

  Moderator: Professor Ben Liebman – Robert L. Lieff Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Chinese Legal Studies, Columbia Law School
Panelists:
  Thomas Kellogg – Program Director, Open Society Institute; Adjunct Professor, Fordham Law School
  Steven Hill Counselor for Legal Affairs, United States Mission to the United Nations
  Eva Pils – Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Chinese University of Hong Kong
 
3:00 – 4:30 pm China’s Relationship with Africa and its Impact on Human Rights 
  Moderator: TBA
Panelists:
  Matt Wells – Researcher, Africa Division, Human Rights Watch
Sarah Cook – Senior Research Analyst, East Asia, Freedom House

NYC Event – Human Rights Watch Discusses New Report on Feb. 9

By , January 25, 2011

In April 2009, the Chinese government released its first  National Human Rights Action Plan (2009-2010) ostensibly to better protect the civil rights and civil liberties enshrined in the Chinese Constitution, such as the right to a fair trial, the right to question the government and the need to eliminate torture in police interrogations.  With such a bold plan, the question remains – how did China do in fulfilling the promises of its first Human Rights Action Plan. 

Human Rights Watch (“HRW”), in its recent report, “Promises Unfulfilled: An Assessment of China’s National Human Rights Action Plan,” attempts to answer that question and to explain how a country which promotes economic freedom has seen a recent regression in terms of civil liberties. 

HRW China researcher Phelim Kine will present the findings of “Promises Unfulfilled” in a discussion at Seton Hall School of Law in Newark New Jersey on February 9, 2011.  Hosted by Chinese legal expert and Seton Hall Law Professor Margaret K. Lewis and with participation from the Open Society Institute’s China Program Director, Thomas Kellogg, the discussion should prove to be an interesting conversation of an issue that was front and center at President Hu Jintao’s recent visit to the U.S.  RSVP is appreciated (http://law.shu.edu/chinahumanrights). 

And just as a shout out to HRW – their reports are pretty amazing and there are only a few other organizations that are able to produce such accurate and informative reports regarding what’s happening on the ground in China.  Phelim Kine is not to be missed!

Wednesday, February 9
1:45 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.
Seton Hall School of Law
1109 Raymond Blvd.
Newark, NJ
RSVP here: http://law.shu.edu/chinahumanrights
Directions: Seton Hall School of Law is a 5 minute walk from Newark Penn Station which is accessible from NYC via the PATH train or NJ Transit.  More specific directions can be found here – http://law.shu.edu/About/Directions.cfm

A Jersey Shore Analysis of the Hu Jintao State Visit

By , January 23, 2011

Welcome to the Jersey Shore!

State visits never produced tangible results, and last Wednesday’s visit of President Hu Jintao to Washington, D.C. was no exception.  True a series of business contracts  and joint ventures were announced, but not much else.  Really though, that’s not why we watch state visits – especially ones involving leaders of the two largest economies in the world.

We watch them more because they are a reality show of sorts – watching two world leaders from vastly different cultures walk the fine line between appearing strong for one’s own country’s interests but at the same time, not completely trampling the other country’s interests.  But unlike the Jersey Shore where one might just be sent home from the beach for misbehaving (think Angelina Season 1 AND Season 2), the consequences are much more serious when you are dealing with two countries whose future relationship can easily determine the fate of the world.

Fortunately, this State visit proved a lot more peaceful and face-saving than anything being shown on the Jersey Shore these days.  While there were some surprises, especially on the Chinese side, there were no fist-a-cuffs.  Overall, the visit seemed to show an improved relationship, at least rhetoric-wise, between the United States and China.

But this is a Jersey Shore analysis so enough of the feel goodness; the question still remains – who won?  Below is a point-by-point analysis of President Hu Jinato’s State visit.

Point for China – Hu Finally Gets a State Visit

The fact that there was a State visit at all was a huge point for China.  It’s been 13 years since a sitting Chinese president

Ceremony on the South Lawn, Jan. 19, 2011

was invited for a State visit and President Hu’s last visit to Washington in 2006 consisted of a lunch with President George W. Bush.  Could anything be more embarrassing for a world leader than to just be offered the lunch menu at the White House?

Unfortunately, yes.  Hu’s 2006 “official” (not state) visit was marred with embarrassing moments for the Chinese.  First, China was introduced as the Republic of China – the official name for Taiwan – sort of a huge gaffe in U.S.-China relations.  Second, a Falun Gong practitioner, a religious order that the Chinese government considers a threat to its rule, was able to obtain press credentials for Hu’s 2006 visit and protest at the event.

But for this visit, the Obama Administration pulled out all of the stops, making it a State visit to outdo all other State visits.  President Hu was greeted at the airport by Vice President Joe Biden and quickly ushered to the White House for an intimate dinner with President Obama.  At all times, China was introduced by its correct name and there were no protests on the South Lawn.

Michelle Obama at the State Dinner for President Hu Jintao

Culminating the event was Wednesday night’s State dinner, perhaps the most anticipated affair this winter.  In addition to a fun and interesting guest list, Michelle Obama chose an amazing dress in homage to one of fashion’s favorite designers – the late Alexander McQueen – making the event the talk of the town of both politicos and fashionistas.

Point for the U.S. – China Gets (a little bit) Tougher on North Korea

North Korea is proving to be a particularly troubling aspect of U.S.-China relations.  No one – including China – particularly cares for North Korea and its saber-rattling as Kim Jung-il’s son takes the rein of perhaps the world’s worst dictatorship.  North Korea’s bellicose activities interfere with China’s economic relations with its Asian neighbors.  But China has yet to take a strong stance against North Korea’s actions even though such actions upset the stability that China needs to continue its rise.  China’s hesitance comes from the fact that it fears a collapsed North Korea; not only would there be the demise of another communist ally, but a collapsed North Korea would mean an influx of starving Korean refugees into China as well as sharing a border with the democratic and U.S.-military-backed South Korea.

For its part, the United States has begun to see North Korea as an increasingly real threat against its allies and itself.  As a result, at Tuesday night’s intimate dinner between the two leaders, President Obama explained to President Hu that unless China takes a stronger stance against North Korea, the U.S. will be left with no choice but to rebuild a stronger military presence on the Korean peninsula.

That argument eventually carried the day.  In the Joint Statement issued on Wednesday, China, for the first time,

Kim Jong-il, Beijing's friend or foe?

“expressed concern” regarding North Korea’s nuclear build-up.  Additionally, while China has urged the resumption of “six party talks” with North Korea, the U.S. has hesitated, seeing it as a reward for North Korea’s bad behavior.  Evidently China and the U.S. were able to reach a compromise: before any six-party talks resume, the two Koreas must first resume their dialogue (see paragraph 18 of the Joint Statement).  On Thursday, South Korea agreed to low-level talks with the North.

Half a Point for the U.S. –Human Rights Makes the Agenda but an Odd Assortment of “Human Rights Advocates” Advise President Obama

Human rights loomed large during Hu’s State visit.  After meekly raising the issue during his State visit to China in November 2009, President Obama was having no criticism of his commitment to human rights.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made that apparent in her speech on January 14, 2011 when she not just raised the issue of human rights but also mentioned specific human rights advocates that the U.S. believed were been unlawfully detained.

President Obama continued to publicly press the issue of human rights.  President Obama publicly declared the universality of certain human rights as well as the need for the Chinese leadership to meet with the Dalai Lama.  Perhaps the most surprising of all was when President Hu admitted that China still had a ways to go in better protecting human rights (see the Q&A portion of the Joint Press Conference).

Normally, this should receive a full point.  But the U.S. loses a half a point because of form.  Prior to President’s Hu’s visit, President Obama met with five China human rights advocates.  These “advocates” included Prof. Andrew Nathan of Columbia University; Prof. Paul Gewirtz of the Yale China Law Center; author Zha Jianying; the wife of former Ambassador Winston Lord, Bette Bao Lord; and research scholar at the University of Maryland, Li Xiaorong.

While these five are likely well-informed on issues of human rights, there seems to be some missing names from the list of “human rights advocates.”  Sharon Hom of Human Rights in China has dedicated her life – and at times has risked her safety – to advocate for greater human rights protection; one can’t think of anyone else more qualified.  And if one wants to stick with academics (three of the five study human rights), it is questionable why Prof. Jerome Cohen of NYU School of Law was not in attendance.  Prof. Cohen continues to lambast China on its human rights record on an almost bi-weekly basis in his South China Morning Post articles and actively supports many human rights attorneys in China.

But most of all, why weren’t the Chinese human rights activists themselves invited?  Currently, the wife of missing human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is in the United States as is the wife of imprisoned human rights lawyer Guo Feixiong.  Why not invite either of them to speak with the President of the current human rights situation in China?  Or exiled dissident Yang Jianli currently residing in the U.S.?  Or better yet – why not have a Skype chat with any of the human rights lawyers presently in China (Teng Biao, Mo Shaoping, Tang Jitian, Liu Wei)?  The latter might be a bit too much to ask, but the list of human rights advocates invited to speak with President Obama should have been longer.

Point for China – U.S. Promises to Rein in Spending

As the largest holder of U.S. debt, China is very concerned about the U.S.’ spending habits.  The Federal Reserve’s announcement of injecting more cash into the U.S. economy through “quantitative easing” only worsened China’s fear that its U.S. dollar reserves would lessen in value.  So when President Obama, in response to a reporter’s question during the joint press conference, stated that the U.S. must take greater responsibility in saving and cutting the U.S. deficit, China was very happy.

Half a Point for the U.S. – Government Procurement

China’s closed government procurement market and its indigenous innovation policy has been a issue for U.S. businesses.  China is not a member of the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (“GPA”) and as a result is not required to have an “open” government procurement market.  China has submitted two bids in the past few years to be a member of the GPA, most recently this past summer.  However, both applications have fallen far short and as a result, China remains outside of the GPA.

But surprisingly, in the U.S.-China Joint Statement (paragraph 27), China agreed to resubmit an application to the GPA by the end of 2011 and include sub-central government entities as subject to its proposal.  Such an agreement was unexpected and likely a welcome development to the U.S. business community.

So why half the point?  Seeing is believing in this case.  It’s not completely in China’s self-interest to be a member of the GPA at this stage so anticipate that its renewed application will still fall short of GPA requirements.  And even if it becomes a member, it’s questionable if China will enforce laws to promote an equitable government procurement market.

Point for U.S., Point for China – 100,000 Strong Initiative Articulated

Study Abroad in China!

During President Hu’s visit, Michelle Obama, in a speech before a thousand DC-area students, reaffirmed the Administrations’ commitment to sending 100,000 U.S. students to China on various study abroad programs (the “100,000 Strong Initiative”).  In 2008, less than 15,000 U.S. students (on both the college and high school levels) studied abroad in China. The U.S. has a long way to go before we reach 100,000 students but its commitment to achieving that goal is a win-win for both China and the U.S.

Americans’ knowledge of China is abysmally low; as China rises, our lack of our understanding its history, culture or language becomes dangerous.  Study abroad programs can help bridge that gap.  While very few U.S. students will continue on their China path after their study abroad program, just being exposed to the culture and the difficulties that the nation faces is important.  But there will also be some students that will continue on that path, providing an invaluable resource to the American government as China continues its rise as a global power.

The “strong” in the 100,000 Strong Initiative is more about strengthening the cultural ties and understanding between our two nations.  While China sends 10 times the number of students to the Untied States, it is important that U.S. students go to China for those Chinese who will never come to America.  What’s even more important is that the 100,000 Strong Initiative reaches out to community colleges and historically black colleges and universities, both of which have been underrepresented in China study abroad programs.  It is important that the students the U.S. sends to China reflect our great diversity.

Sec. Gates, not a happy camper on US-China military ties

No Points for Anyone – Military-to-Military Ties Remain the Same

There doesn’t seem to be a change in military-to-military ties.  After the U.S. sold arms to Taiwan last January, China broke off military ties and the relationship has barely warmed.  When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Beijing a few weeks ago, a stealth jet fighter was flown unbeknown to even President Hu Jintao.

The Joint Statement (paragraph 9) includes language on improving and deepening communication between the two militaries.  But it appears to be boilerplate language similar to the language found in the Joint Statement issued after President Obama’s visit to China in November 2009.  The fact that China’s military remains non-transparent, secretive and slightly threatening is a serious issue.  The fact that President Hu did not seem to have control of the military, even though he is the nominal Chairman of the Central Military Commission, is even more troubling, for both the U.S. and China.

The U.S. military is stationed through out China and patrols many international waters.  The Chinese military is becoming increasingly assertive at times.  Small incidents have occurred in the past.  But without good communications between the two militaries, it is easy for any small incident to become an international one that could upset the stability in the Pacific.  Hopefully the promised high-level military visits between the two countries will soon produce results.  Then both the Chinese and American people will find it easier to sleep at night.

Winner?

It’s a tie. As far as State visits go, this was a pretty good one.  Everyone got something they wanted and can bring back positive results to their respective people.  Aside from military relations, U.S.-China rhetoric seems to be improving.  Hopefully this trend can continue.

Clinton on U.S-China Relations – A Changed Approach

By , January 17, 2011

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers the Richard Holbrooke Inaugural Lecture

The Obama Administration has a new China policy, or at the very least has gotten better at articulating it. In preparation for President Hu Jintao’s January 19 State visit, key officials in the Obama Administration outlined their goals for the U.S.-China relationship through a series of speeches last week. 

While Secretaries Tim Geithner and Gary Locke each focused on specifics (currency, market access, intellectual property), Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s speech on Friday (click here for speech transcript) provided a new framework by which to view the U.S.-China relationship. Rest assured this isn’t the same soft China policy that accompanied President Obama on his visit to China in November 2009. 

In her speech, Clinton acknowledged the importance of the U.S.-China relationship to each country and the world at large. But while it values its relationship with China, the United States still has choices and the U.S. would “firmly and decisively” address its differences with China. Friday’s speech, which was also the inaugural Richard C. Holbrooke Annual Lecture, in honor of former State Department official and an important peace envoy (key player in the Dayton Peace Accords and envoy to Afghanistan), has already received criticism from China’s leadership.  

Clinton Announces a New Paradigm By Which to View China’s Rise

Perhaps the greatest obstacles in the relationship – at least for the U.S. – have been China’s currency manipulation and China’s protection of domestic industries at the expense of international trade rules and norms.  What the U.S. asks of China – to stop pegging its currency to the U.S. dollar and to open its markets to foreign competition in accordance with international standards – inevitably means that in the short-term, Chinese domestic companies will suffer.  By allowing its currency to float, Chinese exports will become more expensive, hurting the manufacturing backbone of its economy.  Opening its markets to more competition from foreign companies and products – particularly the government procurement market – could impair the development of many of China’s nascent industries. 

Needless to say, it has been difficult to find a convincing argument to make Chian’s leaders willing suffer short-term hurt. In the past, U.S. officials have repeatedly discussed how in the long-run these changes will eventually better promote China’s economic growth and power. But this appear disingenuous since in the short-term, it is the U.S. that will most greatly benefit from changes to Beijing’s current policies.  Additionally, telling Beijing what’s good for it in the long-run is sort of like parents telling their kids what is best. 

But Clinton’s speech took on a decidedly different approach and offers a more convincing, even slightly threatening argument.  Clinton did not bother with a “what is best for China” argument to try to convince the Chinese government; instead Clinton provided an entire new way by which to view China’s rise.  Clinton acknowledged the hard work of China’s people and the far-sightedness of its leaders in creating the world’s second largest economy in just over 30 years.  But Clinton also stressed the important role the United States played in China’s rise; without the United States, which guaranteed military security in Asia and equitable rules to govern the global economy, China’s current success would have been impossible.  

By tying China’s rise to the stability the United States provided in the region for the past 30 years, Clinton makes a much stronger argument as to why China’s leaders should make some changes on currency and market access – basically, these are the rules of the game that allowed you to succeed and now you think you can just change them? 

No rest for Robert Gates

The United States Will Remain a Pacific Power

But if logic isn’t enough to better protect U.S.’ interests, Clinton put China on warning that it is not the only fish in the sea.  Repudiating any notion of a G-2 relationship, Clinton gave a shout out to the other countries in the region, stating that the United States intends to remain a Pacific military power, strengthen its bonds with its allies in the region (e.g. Japan, South Korea, Philippines) and deepen its ties with developing Asian countries (e.g. India, Vietnam, Indonesia).

On some level, this should not come as a surprise to China.  This past summer, the United States involved itself in a long-running dispute between China and Vietnam over the control of a group of rock islands, stating that the U.S. has a national interest in mediating the dispute.  Additionally, recent bellicose developments on the Korean peninsula and China’s ambivalent response to the North’s unprovoked attack on South Korea, makes it apparent that the United States must maintain a strong military presence in the region.  China’s response shows that it is not yet ready to take on the responsibility of maintaining peace in the Pacific region since its loyalties to North Korea still dominate. 

Finally, Clinton noted that China’s non-transparent military build-up leaves one wondering what exactly are China’s intentions.  Military-to-military ties between the

China launches its Stealth fighter jet during Robert Gates visit to Beijing

 United States and China are at all-time low, mostly at the fault of China.  China’s military continues to shroud itself in secrecy and the recent visit of Secretary Robert Gates to China was a complete debacle.  While Gates visited with President Hu Jintao in Beijing, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tested – in a very public way – its own stealth fighter jet.  Hu’s admission that he was unaware of the PLA’s planned test fight, is not particularly reassuring.  Not only does the PLA continue its secrative military build-up, but it’s even a secret to China’s own President, making one wonder, what power does Hu still have?  If history is a guide, whoever is in charge of the Chinese military is in charge of China.  If not Hu, then who?

Getting Serious About Human Rights

Clinton was surprisingly blunt when it came to China’s human rights record and didn’t just portray human rights as a peculiar aspect of the American culture (see President Obama’s talk to Shanghai students in November 2009 for this approach).  Instead, Clinton emphasized the universality of certain human rights and highlighted the fact that China is a signatory to many United Nations human rights treaties.  The United States is not interfering with China’s domestic politics; instead the United States is merely requesting that China fulfill its human rights obligations, obligations it voluntary agreed to. 

But Clinton went further and mentioned specific dissidents, including the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo who is currently languishing in a Chinese prison; rights defending attorney Chen Guangcheng who since his release from prison has been subject to repeat police harassment; and missing rights defending attorney Gao Zhisheng.   Clinton stressed that as long as people like these three continue to advocate peacefully within the confines of the law, China should not persecute them.  Clinton poetically commented that the empty seat for Liu Xiaobo at last month’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony symbolizes China’s unrealized potential.  Clinton stressed that these human rights are necessary to China’s success; freedom of speech is essential to fostering free thought that leads to technological and scientific advancement and a vibrant civil society addresses social-economic problems that are currently one the regime’s biggest fears. 

The Obama Administration has a new policy on China – it’s tougher, more logical and stresses the importance of human rights.  The Chinese government has already responded.  President Hu Jintao, in an interview with the Washington Post, commented that the United States should not interfere with the internal affairs of China. 

Wednesday’s meeting between Presidents Hu and Obama should prove to be perhaps some of the most important conversations in the U.S.-China relationship since Kissinger secretly visited Beijing in 1971 in preparation for President Nixon’s visit.

Human Rights Lawyer Teng Biao Recounts Police Abuse

By , December 27, 2010

With President Hu Jintao set to make an official State visit to the U.S. next month, expect an increase in op-eds concerning violations of human rights in China and the demand that President Obama raise human rights issues with President Hu.  These op-eds usually name particular human rights activists, those who have been at it the longest and whose regular imprisonment and abuse make the international news.  Teng Biao is one such human rights lawyer who receives international attention whenever the Chinese police take him into custody, which, unfortunately, is a fairly regular occurrence.

In a recent essay translated in the Wall Street Journal, Prof. Teng recounts the wrongful detention and police brutality he suffered on December 23, 2010, when attempting to visit a colleague’s mother.  But what makes Prof. Teng’s essay particularly poignant is that he admits that because of his special status as an internationally-known human rights lawyer, the beatings he suffers at the hands of the police are much less severe than someone with less international name recognition.

The op-eds that will inevitably appear prior to President Hu’s visit to the U.S. should not just call for the freedom of a single human rights activist; rather it is important that these op-eds also look at the systemic problems with the culture of lawlessness that permeates the Chinese police and the lack of a rule of law.  Prof. Teng portrays a police force drunk on its own power and willing to cast aside the law to do as it pleases, including abusing its citizens.

‘A Hole to Bury You’
A first-hand account of how China’s police treats the citizens it’s supposed to serve and protect.

Human Rights lawyer, Teng Biao

By Teng Biao*

Beijing – On Dec. 23, the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons From Forced Disappearance came into force. China has declined to accede to this convention. My experience that same day is just one of many examples of how the authorities continue to falsely imprison Chinese citizens.

That evening, I was in the Xizhimen area of Beijing chatting with my colleagues Piao Xiang, Xu Zhiyong and Zhang Yongpan. Ms. Piao had been disappeared after she and I went to Dandong on Oct. 7 to argue the court case of Leng Guoquan, a man framed by the police for drug trafficking; she had only been released on Dec. 20. Her abductors had been officers from the state security squad of the Public Security Bureau. I asked her to narrate the entire process of her disappearance in detail.

Later, I suggested to Mr. Zhang, “Let’s go and see Fan Yafeng’s mom.” The day before, we had contacted fellow human rights lawyer Fan Yafeng and found out that he was under strict house arrest. But he had said that his mother was going to be alone at home in the evening and so I thought we should go see her.

Because I used to go there frequently I remembered clearly where she lived. As Mr. Zhang and I entered the block of flats and started walking up the staircase, I had a feeling that someone was following us. Observing that we went to the third floor, a young security guard asked us whom we were visiting. We said, “We’re seeing a friend.” Immediately, he called out for someone else to come up.

We knocked on the door and were greeted by Mr. Fan’s mother. But as we entered the flat, the security guard came with us, and a person in plainclothes stormed in just behind him. The man in plainclothes demanded to check our IDs in a very coarse manner. I asked him in a loud voice, “What sort of people are you? How can you enter a private residence without permission?”

The plainclothes man said, “I am a police officer. We want to check your ID cards.” “You’re a police officer? I want to see your police ID.” “If I am telling you I’m a police officer, then that’s what I am. What are you doing here?” “Is that your business? How can you prove you’re a police officer if you don’t show your police ID card?”

***Click here to Read More***

*Prof. Teng Biao is a lecturer of law at the Law School of the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL), one of China’s most prestigious law school.  After working with human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong to successfully abolish the Custody and Repatriation system, Teng and Xu opened the public interest law firm, Open Constitution Initiative, which was shut down in summer 2009.  Teng has been repeatedly warned by administrators at CUPL that if he continues with his rights defense work, he could lose his job and even his personal freedom.

Ambassador Huntsman Discusses U.S.-China Relations – A Review

By , October 19, 2010

Steve Orlins of the National Committee on U.S. China Relations interviews Amb. Jon Huntsman

Last night’s China Town Hall, a live webcast sponsored by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and hosted by various educational institutions throughout the United States, fell short of expectations.   Featuring U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, the conversation was anything but a frank discussion on the current difficulties in U.S.-China relations.  Instead, the evening had the stale air of political-speak and left one wondering, who exactly was the audience for this event?  But although Ambassador Huntsman’s comments were largely staged, a few key highlights emerged.

Interestingly, the audience was not the American public.  From Ambassador Huntsman’s answers, it appeared to be the Chinese leadership.  Many, if not most of his substantive comments responded to some of the Chinese leadership’s issues in U.S.-China relations, notably their fears on human rights and currency. Ambassador Huntsman began his comments by focusing on the importance of dialogue in the U.S.-China relation and the very real need of greater understanding of each other’s countries and their particularities.  It’s true that most Americans’ views of China are not the most informed and the culture is a bit of an enigma to many but, as the Ambassador pointed out, the same holds true for most Chinese on their views of American culture.

Ambassador Huntsman continued with his plea for greater understanding between the two nations by raising the issue of human rights.  According to Ambassador Huntsman, the Chinese need to understand that human rights is an important issue to Americans; it is a part of who we are, and that is why we always raise it in bi-lateral discussions.  This is certainly the conciliatory route to take in addressing the very prickly issue of human rights in China and it appears to be the strategy purposefully chosen by the Obama Administration.  President Obama took this approach in his Shanghai Town Hall address last November and the same rhetoric emerged after the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue this past spring.

But one wonders – is this effective?  Or by claiming that human rights is a part

June 1989 - Tank Man

of our – e.g. the American or the Western culture – does this rhetoric cheapen the call for universal human rights?  If human rights is universal, then why must we couch the call for it in cultural terms?  And why is there never a reminder from the Obama Administration about China’s commitment, both on the government and individual levels, to human rights?  China has signed various international human rights treaties and many of her people clamor for greater human rights.  Back in June 1989, many died for it.

For now at least, this cultural contexting of human rights appears to be the strategy in dealing with the call for greater human rights in China.  So don’t expect to see any developments on this front with the current Administration; instead, expect human rights to painted as a peculiar particularity of the American culture; something the Chinese will just have to understand about us, sort of like how we like baseball while the rest of the world is crazy for soccer.

But on a more positive note, Ambassador Huntsman used the China Town Hall to signal to the Chinese leadership that it needs to do something about its currency, and quickly.  Although initially complementing the Chinese leadership on allowing the currency to float, Ambassador Huntsman continuously stressed the need for China to allow it to float more rapidly, heavily implying that retaliation from any angry Senate would be sure to follow.  While the Treasury Department has again delayed its report that determines which country is a currency manipulator, the Ambassador’s veiled comments seemed to hint that the U.S. government might be getting closer to taking action on currency.

Ambassador Huntsman shone though on the final question of the night from an audience member in China (likely at the American Chamber of Commerce which was the only organization hosting a webcast within China) about China as a hot-button campaign issue.  Instead of referring to some of the recent campaign ads as mere “anti-China rhetoric,” Ambassador Huntsman noted

Sen. Sherrod Brown

that many of the issues raised recently during the election cycle are important issues and should be addressed.  Interestingly, the New York Times ran two op-eds on Monday intelligently discussing the issues (Paul Krugman and Sherrod Brown); each noting that what is good for American business interests in China is not necessarily what’s good for America.  But Ambassador Huntsman did note that the danger is relegating China issues to a 15 second ad and hoped that once people are elected, that Congress should have a deeper conversation about China.  Evidently Ambassador Huntsman has been out of the country too long; Congress, on both sides of the aisle, appears incapable to discuss any issues deeply, if at all.  And it doesn’t appear that the U.S. government – including Congressmembers and Senators – ever have an interest in hiring staff that actually knows anything about China.  While Ambassador Huntsman is right that these issues do need to be discussed intelligently and sincerely, good luck with resting your hope with Congress.

Although the message from the China Town Hall was less than frank, it was still good that the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations sponsored this event – it provides insight into the U.S.’ relationship with China.  Additionally, the sponsoring educational institutions each hosted a talk, either before or after the Ambassador, discussing more recent developments in China.  At Seton Hall School of Law’s China Town Hall, organized by Prof. Margaret K. Lewis, Prof. Carl Minzner gave the keynote speech.  An expert on legal and political reform in China, Prof. Minzner spoke much more frankly about China’s future course, especially as it pertains to greater rights protection of its citizens.  Prof. Minzner’s speech will be analyzed in a future blog post.  Stay tuned!

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