Human rights abuse in China

Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Washington last week amid the grandiose fanfare of a valued state visit, indicating U.S. President Barack Obama’s desire to continue strengthening relations with the rising power. However, enforcing a mutual respect between the nations did not undermine the hard stance occupied by the American President on China’s questionable human rights policies and undervalued currency.

“A lot more needs to be done,” admitted Hu in a statement about the Chinese approach to human rights. this recognition is a positive step by the Chinese government, who have typically chosen to ignore such issues. While this is encouraging to some, others believe that the words don’t indicate any increased probability of a change in Chinese policy.

Hu’s comments were distinctly vague, raising questions about whether any progress is likely to be made. “The intentions are quite clear: to do as little as they can possibly get away with,” was the cynical remark by professor of political science Barry Kay. Admittedly, since the release of China’s 2009-10 National Human Rights Plan, no notable progress has been made. The continued imprisonment of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo remains a symbolic reminder and realistic example of China’s authoritarian tactics and resistance to social change.

Professor of history, Blaine Chiasson, is doubtful that the human rights aspect of the dialogue is likely to gain press in Chinese media, and rather suspects the focus will be the formal measures taken by Obama to recognize the importance of the bilateral negotiations to the United States. Obama has taken a more delicate approach than the previous administration and has demonstrated a clear attempt to improve relations. Chiasson commented, “The Chinese want to be acknowledged as an equal player, as a rising power, and if they don’t feel that they’re getting that acknowledgement … the government is so touchy that I could see them reacting very negatively.”

There are some inherent contradictions in China’s insistence on being treated as an equal trading partner. One of the long-standing goals of the United States has been the appreciation of China’s currently undervalued currency, the yuan. As noted by Chiasson, in order to make excuses for currency and trade policies that benefit China domestically, “The Chinese government always falls back on the issue that they’re a developing country; they have a right to determine currency policy.”

In acceding to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, China was very insistent on its status as a developing country, so that it did not have to reduce tariffs to the extent requested. In China’s 2010 Trade Policy Review by the WTO, increasing transparency and reducing trade barriers were still noted as areas requiring improvement.

China’s GDP growth rate was at a comparatively high rate in 2010. But what is often forgotten, according to Kay, is that the base from which China is currently expanding from is significantly smaller, and in many areas, less developed than its strong economic counterparts. Kay acknowledged, “A lot of Chinese expansion has been at the expense of the Chinese common man.” Although it may seem to have a high industrial and technological capacity, many rural Chinese citizens suffer in the direst of conditions.

If China wishes to truly see itself comparable to the economic grandeur of the United States, it should consider releasing its economy from the crippling grasp of its ignorance of the necessity of universal human rights and a guaranteed standard of living.

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