Facing criticism, Clinton vows to keep China focus on human rights
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Feb. 25 asked human rights advocates to judge her by results and not by her recent comments that appeared to downplay U.S. concerns over China’s rights record.
Mrs. Clinton used the release of the State Department’s annual report on human rights to respond to criticism of her comments in Asia one week earlier that the issue should not “interfere” with U.S.-Chinese progress on other issues such as climate change, economic and security matters.
The report was highly critical of China.
“I will continue to focus my own energies on human rights,” she said. “I’m looking for results. I’m looking for changes that actually improve the lives of the greatest numbers of people. Hopefully, we will be judged over time by successful results from these efforts.”
As she headed to Beijing on Feb. 20, Mrs. Clinton said that human rights are “part of our agenda with the Chinese,” but the issue “can’t interfere” with other issues such as the global economic crisis.
The two largest rights groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, called her remarks damaging. Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, accused her of “a shock- ing display of pandering” to China and of having “dismissed, devalued and debased human rights” in the country.
On Feb. 25, Mrs. Clinton said that she will make improving human rights “a global effort that reaches beyond governments alone.”
“I intend for us to work with nongovernmental organizations, businesses, religious leaders, schools and universities, as well as individual citizens, all of whom can play a vital role in creating a world where human rights are accepted, respected and protected,” she said.
Amnesty’s executive director in the United States, Larry Cox, said Mrs. Clinton was attempting with her Feb. 25 comments to “show that the U.S. is not backing off from human rights.”
The State Department report said the Chinese government’s “human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas,” and that it included “extrajudicial killings, torture and coerced confessions of prisoners, and the use of forced labor, including prison labor.”
“The government continued to monitor, harass, detain, arrest and imprison journalists, writers, activists and defense lawyers and their families, many of whom were seeking to exercise their rights under the law,” the document said. It also criticized China’s enforcement of its one- child policy and China’s treatment of refugees from North Korea.
Chinese officials dismiss U.S. criticism of their human rights policies as an attempt to impose Western values on China.
During her visit to Beijing, Mrs. Clinton said she raised the issue with Chinese officials, and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi confirmed they discussed it in a “respectful manner.”
The report for 2008 examines the status of human rights in more than 190 countries during the Bush administration’s final year in office. The countries most criticized include Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Somalia and Zimbabwe.