Human Rights Groups Urge Kerry to Take Forceful Human Rights Stance in China


When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits China this weekend, he should convey a clear message to the Chinese leadership that a good working relationship with the United States will depend in part on the government’s respect for universal human rights, Freedom House and seven other human rights groups urged in a joint letter submitted to the State Department on Wednesday, April 10.

“Hillary Clinton’s first trip to China as Secretary of State in which she claimed that human rights discussions should not interfere with cooperation in other areas set a poor precedent. Despite toughened rhetoric in subsequent engagements, her statement reduced the administration’s leverage and disappointed those in China who share these universal values,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “We urge John Kerry to avoid making the same mistake during his visit that will set the tone for U.S.-China relations in President Obama’s second term.”

The letter maintains that it is impossible to untangle human rights from other policy priorities and U.S. interests in China, including cybersecurity, environmental protection, food and product safety, and a level economic playing field for U.S. businesses. As such, Secretary Kerry should prominently raise human rights concerns in their own right and also for their spillover effects on other interests.  

“The Chinese authorities note the soft-pedaling of human rights principles and perceive it as weakness, validating their sense of a changing power dynamic between the two countries and their belief that U.S. human rights policy is more political than principled,” states the letter. “To accomplish its goals in China, the U.S. must raise—with equal prominence and confidence—human rights issues alongside economic, strategic, and diplomatic concerns.”

The letter also notes that Kerry’s visit is an especially opportune time to reinforce growing demands by Chinese citizens for greater freedoms.

“We hope that you will seize this opportunity to … demonstrate that Chinese activists and citizens can continue to rely on the United States to speak up on their behalf and to endorse the universal human rights they aspire to enjoy,” it states.

The appeal was signed by Freedom House, Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders, China Aid, Human Rights in China, the International Campaign for Tibet, the Uyghur American Association and the World Uyghur Congress.

China is one of the world’s worst human rights abusers, rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2013, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2012 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2012.

To learn more about China, visit:

Freedom in the World 2013: China

Freedom of the Press 2012: China

Freedom on the Net 2012: China

Blog: Freedom at Issue

Letter to Secretary Kerry

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