Conflict & Justice

US, China are all talk on human rights


Chinese and American diplomats met in Washington this week to discuss human rights issues, but many activists think the annual talks are superficial.


Alexander F. Yuan-Pool

Chinese diplomats are in Washington, DC for human rights talks with the US this week, an annual meeting some say is toothless and allows China forgo mention of human rights during other diplomatic negotiations. 

Rights groups are calling for the US to press harder on China when it comes to human rights, and activists like China's Chen Guangcheng are skeptical that anything can come out of these talks. 

US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner and Chen Xu, a senior official in China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs have met behind closed doors on subjects like rule of law, justice for individuals, equality and Tibet, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters. According to the Huffington Post, Nuland said the Obama administration's ability to raise these issues "speaks to the maturing of [the US-China] relationship."

The strategic partnership between the US and China is especially important when it comes to human rights issues in other countries, such as Iran, North Korea and Syria, and many hope these talks, and parallel talks taking place today in Beijing will foster deeper cooperation on those foreign policy issues. 

However, Human Rights Watch and other groups say the talks are cosmetic and allow China to assume a facade of caring about international rights law and upholding various treaties without actually taking action to correct a long-standing system of problems. 

The National Human Rights Action Plan, released by China in early June, is a roadmap that lays out what would amount to a full human rights overhaul in the country between 2012 and 2015. But it doesn't dig deep and while it may be a good attempt to make it look like the Chinese are taking human rights seriously, it doesn't explain just how changes (if any) will be implemented, and contains a host of other concerns regarding ignoring detainee release laws, labor rights and LGBT issues.

More from GlobalPost: China human rights: from bad to worse

Will these talks be a chance for the US to check up on implementation of the Action Plan? Most critics don't think so, considering the last action plan (in 2011) did very little to address human rights abuses in China. 

China-based NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) wrote in a blog post that their group "asks what, if anything, has been achieved by these talks? Are there any tangible results or positive outcomes that the US government can point to? Or is the only 'result' merely the convening of the dialogue? CHRD strongly believes that a systematic and public assessment of the usefulness of these dialogues is long overdue."

HRW agrees, and in a strongly written release, the international organization demanded the talks produce results. 

“The crisis of self-immolations by Tibetans, stalled legal reform, and the latest disingenuous ‘human rights action plans,’ have been put on the agenda by the US,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “But another round of exchanges, particularly if there is no public discussion of the talks afterward, will allow the Chinese government to say it is engaging on rights issues while putting off necessary reforms that create a country with the rule of law and respect for basic rights.”

More from GlobalPost: Chen Guangcheng explained

Blind activist Chen, who made waves after he escaped Chinese detention and arrived in the US, left family members behind in China including a nephew who's now in custody for attempted homicide and is being denied independent legal council, reported the Huffington Post. Chen released a statement saying he feared for the lives of his nephew and other family members, because Chinese authorities simply do not follow the laws. 

"There are laws that could protect my nephew – including laws against torture – but some Chinese officials routinely flout the law with impunity," Chen Guangcheng said. "China does not lack laws, but the rule of law."