Secretary Kerry Must Make Human Rights a Priority in Upcoming China Visit

Freedom House joined prominent rights groups in calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to make human rights a priority in his upcoming trip to China.

Read the letter below and download a PDF version of the letter here.

April 10, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry US Department of State 2201 C Street NW Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry,

As you prepare to make your first trip to the People’s Republic of China as Secretary of State, our organizations strongly urge you to make human rights issues a prominent topic in your discussions with the Chinese leadership.

At this moment, the administration has a unique opportunity and solemn obligation to raise concerns about ongoing and severe human rights abuses in China.  Your visit will set the tone for the U.S.-China relationship in the new Obama term, and is thus a crucial moment to signal to the Chinese government that the quality of its relationship with the United States will depend in part on whether it lives by universally accepted human rights norms in its domestic and foreign policies. This is particularly true given the growing calls by Chinese citizens for enhanced protection and respect for fundamental rights.

We appreciate that the Obama administration has addressed human rights issues in past public statements and interactions with the Chinese leadership. Yet we believe that the Administration needs to pay closer attention to human rights concerns, as well as to the fundamental challenge that the ruling Communist Party’s actions in this area pose to universal values, core U.S. interests, and China’s political stability. In recent years, the Chinese government has increased persecution of domestic critics, abusive policies in Tibet and Xinjiang, repression of religious believers such as Falun Gong practitioners and Christians, and restrictions on civil society, freedom of expression, and the Internet. The U.S. government response has not elicited meaningful improvements in these areas. Moreover, we have seen little evidence that the U.S. government has connected Beijing’s failures to other aspects of U.S.-China engagement.

Rather than smoothing the path for cooperation, the United States undermines its interests and compromises its ability to secure progress on other issues when it downplays human rights concerns. 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.  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.

We note that in recent months the United States has taken tougher positions with the Chinese government on strategic issues such as cyber espionage and regional security. Comparably strong and visible diplomacy and rhetoric are equally possible in defense of universal human rights, particularly at a time when Chinese citizens are increasingly vocal in demanding these freedoms. Moreover, pressing the Chinese government on such issues, including the respect for the rule of law and greater government transparency and accountability, advances a range of other U.S. interests related to China, from environmental protection, to food and product safety, to a level economic playing field.

As much as the Chinese government appears to resist outside pressure to improve its record, experience suggests that it does respond to such pressure. Ordinary people in China will also appreciate hearing that the United States has raised human rights issues in ways that echo their own day-to-day concerns about corruption, censorship, impunity, and restrictions on freedoms of belief and assembly. And we urge that you be mindful of the converse: that the Chinese government and people take careful note when the United States is silent.  

Conveying a clear message to your Chinese counterparts during the forthcoming visit will signal that the United States takes seriously the multiple challenges posed by the Chinese authorities’ routine infringements upon human rights, and that the Obama Administration will prioritize addressing these issues in a meaningful way in the coming years. We hope that you will seize this opportunity to convey such a message and 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.

We are acutely aware that the Administration’s agenda with China is a broad one, but we believe that the desired economic, security, and diplomatic progress can be reinforced through more vigorous and public defense of human rights.

Respectfully,

Amnesty International
China Aid
Freedom House
Human Rights in China
International Campaign for Tibet
Reporters without Borders
Uyghur American Association
World Uyghur Congress

Regions: 
Reports: 
Countries: