China, Trade and Human Rights

St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 11, 1994 | Go to article overview

China, Trade and Human Rights


The most recent State Department report on human rights minces few words regarding China: "The (Chinese) government's overall human rights record in 1993 fell far short of internationally accepted norms as it continued to repress domestic critics and failed to control abuses by its own security forces. The government detained, sentenced to prison or sent to labor camps, and in a few cases expelled from the country, persons who sought to exercise their rights of freedom of assembly and speech."

The report, more than 34 single-spaced typewritten pages, goes on to say that the number of political prisoners is unknown to international groups and that torture and physical abuse are common, particularly in such regions as Tibet, where resistance to the Chinese government is strong.

The United States has a problematic relationship with China because U.S. standards of human rights and laws require human rights to be factored in when granting favorable trade status. Many of the difficulties on the human-rights-and-trade issue stem from the brutal Chinese government crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

That violence was so extreme that human rights activists as well as many American politicians believed that trade with China could not go on as before. In the intervening four and a half years, human rights reports say, the Chinese government has continued to suppress political rights, which it does not recognize as applying to individuals.

The report also states, "There is now a growing middle class in the cities and rural areas as well as a sharp decline in the number of Chinese at the subsistence level. These economic changes have led to a de facto end to the role of ideology in the economy and an increase in cultural diversity."

Those increases in living standards and the growth of a middle class - a significant development with potentially positive long-term political consequences - are the logical result of trade and investment by foreign companies, many of them from the United States. …

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