The 'Helsinki' Model Won't Work in Asia Promoting Human Rights

By Dalpino, Catharin | The Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 1997 | Go to article overview

The 'Helsinki' Model Won't Work in Asia Promoting Human Rights


Dalpino, Catharin, The Christian Science Monitor


The release of Wei Jingsheng, China's most famous dissident, will renew debate on human rights in China when Congress reconvenes in January.

Before adjourning, the House passed the omnibus Political Freedom in China Act, with several initiatives to pressure Beijing. A similar bill is before the Senate. Both propose a "Helsinki Commission" for Asia, to target China's human rights record.

The Helsinki idea, based on the 1975 East-West accords, appeals to the romance that lingers in Washington over the fall of the Berlin Wall. The proponents of an Asian Helsinki model argue that China, like the Soviet Union in the 1970s and '80s, would become enmeshed in a web of standards and reporting requirements on human rights. To be sure, the results of the Helsinki process in Europe were impressive. Country monitoring groups provided a framework, and some degree of protection, for dissidents such as Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia. Havel and other Helsinki monitors rose to national leadership in democratic revolutions of 1989. In the face of this phenomenon, many in Washington see a universal "quick fix" for authoritarian regimes. In reality, the Helsinki process would be difficult to replicate outside Europe. A wide-ranging multilateral framework requires a level of prior integration. NATO, the Warsaw Pact, the EEC, and COMECON were building blocks for the Helsinki accords. It was that range that led the Eastern bloc into a blunder of historic proportions in signing the accords. In exchange for cooperation on security and trade, the Soviets reluctantly accepted review of their human rights practices. So great was the miscalculation that it was Moscow, not Washington, that pushed for a Helsinki process. China has taken pains to learn from the Soviet Union's mistakes, which ultimately led to its demise. …

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