President Clinton, striving to demonstrate continued American pressure to end Chinese human rights abuses, has outlined a five-point program “to support forces of constructive change in China while strengthening the U.S.-China relationship.”
The program, described in an article appearing today on the opinion pages of The Times, consists of steps by the Clinton Administration, American businesses and human rights organizations to push China to improve human rights conditions, even though they no longer will be linked to U.S. trade privileges.
Last week, the Administration announced it would effectively end the effort to link China’s human rights record with its status as a most-favored-nation (MFN) trading partner.
Clinton’s article also clearly is part of his new campaign to do better at explaining his foreign policy to Americans. Clinton told The Times on Friday that controversies and apparent shortcomings in his foreign policy were not the result of staff weaknesses but of his inability to communicate effectively about key issues and decisions.
Among the most controversial of those decisions was the one he made to renew China’s MFN status, despite Beijing’s failure to comply fully on human rights issues, as required by Congress and a presidential executive order last year.
“Annual debates linking MFN to human rights threaten to block needed progress on security and economic issues while yielding little if any progress on human rights,” Clinton writes in the article. “We must pursue our human rights agenda with China in a way that does not isolate China. We can’t help change human rights in China if we’re not there.”
The five points he outlines consist of:
* Transmitting new foreign broadcasts to China, including the new Radio Free Asia.
* Supporting U.S. groups assisting private Chinese groups working on human rights issues.
* Developing voluntary standards for U.S. firms doing business in or with China.
* Promoting international attention to and support for human rights in China.
* Banning the import of Chinese guns and ammunition.
In the context of D-day commemorations this week, the President writes: “We must not waver in the challenge of advancing those same values--freedom and prosperity--in Asia and especially China. It is in this region that many of the profound challenges to America’s national interest can be found; it is in this region that our generation’s progress will in large part be measured.”
The President commends the Chinese government for recent steps, including the release of two dissidents, verbal acceptance of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and moves toward ending the jamming of Voice of America broadcasts. But he underscores that these are insufficient to constitute real progress.
He calls his program “new and vigorous,” although each of the individual points has been debated or acted on before.
In the 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton pledged to make improvement of China’s human rights record a prerequisite for renewal of its favored trading status and to launch Radio Free Asia to make available new foreign media outlets to the Chinese people.
Congress passed authorization of Radio Free Asia this spring, despite China’s vigorous opposition on grounds that it amounted to interference in its internal affairs.
Establishing voluntary principles for U.S. businesses--an idea tried with disputed impact in South Africa--is a longstanding option borrowed from parties who oppose using MFN as leverage on human rights.