Toward a New Foreign Policy

By Huang, Margaret | Foreign Policy in Focus, March 15, 2001 | Go to article overview

Toward a New Foreign Policy


Huang, Margaret, Foreign Policy in Focus


Key Recommendations

* The Bush administration should make an early and strong commitment to human rights as a priority in U.S. foreign policy.

* Washington should establish a consistent human rights policy that is applied equally to all countries regardless of ideological or economic interests.

* The U.S. should pursue multiple approaches to promoting human rights in China, including multilateral efforts and incentives for reform.

There are several key measures that the Bush administration should adopt right away. First, Secretary of State Powell should appoint a strong Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. He should also appoint senior-level advisors with substantial human rights expertise in the other functional and regional bureaus. Increased funding for the human rights bureau and for human rights initiatives would also be a significant sign of commitment by the new administration.

Second, the Bush administration should demonstrate its acceptance of international human rights norms by submitting unapproved international human rights treaties to the Senate for ratification, in particular, CEDAW and the CRC. By joining some of its closest allies--including France, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan--in adopting these agreements, the U.S. would reinforce the message to China and other countries that human rights are universally accepted and applied.

Washington should also establish clear human rights principles to guide all foreign policy. Human rights concerns should be addressed in summit meetings with all countries, including U.S. allies and trading partners. If the threat of economic sanctions is used to pressure one country on its human rights record, then the U.S. should apply the same policy criteria to all other states. Within the IFIs, the U.S. should work with other donor countries to establish explicit human rights criteria for any country seeking development assistance or foreign investment, and these criteria should be uniformly applied.

After fully integrating human rights concerns into foreign policy, Washington should apply these principles to China. The first step in this effort should be to seek cosponsors at the UNCHR for a resolution concerning China's human rights record. Beijing will take a resolution much more seriously if it is viewed as a multilateral response. Another opportunity for a multilateral approach to human rights is the October 2001 meeting of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) members, to be hosted by China. The U.S. should use this high-level meeting to work with other countries, particularly U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, to address human rights concerns across the region.

It is significant to note that serious multilateral pressure on Chinese authorities has already resulted in some progress regarding human rights. For example, China's decision to sign the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1997 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1998 stemmed from international pressure at the UNCHR. Each year before the UNCHR has convened, China has usually released a few political prisoners or announced new steps being undertaken to meet international obligations. …

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