Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Opportunity on Human Rights

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Opportunity on Human Rights

Article excerpt

WITH the annual decision to renew China's trade status just days away, the White House is preparing a counteroffensive to demonstrate that President Clinton still cares about human rights.

The administration should use the opportunity to organize support within the Group of Seven for a policy that attracts bipartisan congressional support and lays down markers for the post-Deng Xiaoping transition.

A year after Mr. Clinton's announcement "delinking" human rights and China's most-favored-nation (MFN) trade status, the administration faces two related problems. First, its attempt to remove human rights as a point of tension in the Sino-US relationship has backfired. China has only clamped down harder on pro-democracy and labor activists, Tibetans, and others.

Second, the administration's human rights policy is virtually all form and little substance. Except for a well-orchestrated, high-level (though ultimately unsuccessful) campaign to censure China at the UN Human Rights Commission, it has yet to develop a strategy to exert serious pressure on China to improve human rights.

The State Department's human rights dialogue with Beijing has been little more than a pro-forma exercise. When Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary led a trade delegation to China in February, human rights was merely a talking point on her agenda. Vice President Al Gore spent 90 minutes with Premier Li Peng in Copenhagen at a UN conference in March. But once again, human rights concerns were discussed behind closed doors.

The G-7 partners will meet in Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 15-17. They include all of China's key trading partners. As China approaches the critical post-Deng transition, this is a strategic opportunity to get agreement on a common strategy to encourage Beijing to cooperate with international agencies and the various United Nations human rights mechanisms. …

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