Later this month, President Clinton will make a state visit to China. His trip has provoked angry debate over what is seen by critics as his administration’s coddling of the Chinese leadership and its failure to actively encourage improved human rights policies in China. Further criticism is aimed at his scheduled official greeting by Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, where hundreds of Chinese students – possibly more – lost their lives in 1989 after a massive pro-democracy protest was forcibly broken up by the military.
Clinton must take a strong stand on issues in which the United States and China come up on different sides. In the wake of countless allegations of improprieties by the Chinese government, Clinton must show the Chinese – and the rest of the world – that the United States will not ignore human rights solely for economic gain.
Nine years ago, the world was transfixed by televised images of thousands of students gathered in the middle of Beijing, demanding greater freedom for the Chinese people. If Clinton does agree to be officially welcomed in the same square where the cobblestones were stained with the blood of freedom’s martyrs, he will be turning his back on memories of those who gave their lives so their countrymen would be treated with respect and humanity.
Clinton must tell the Chinese leaders in their private talks that the United States views China’s treatment of dissidents as both deplorable and unacceptable. With strong evidence showing China routinely sold missile technology to Pakistan, North Korea and other nations, Clinton also must forcefully tell them that continued Chinese violations of weapons proliferation treaties is intolerable.
And in his public statements, Clinton must not be silent on these issues – he should address them specifically.
Clinton’s trip to China is a chance to make a new push for human rights. Instead of letting business interests dictate U.S.-China relations – at the expense of human rights – the goal of the United State’s policy should be to combine its economic interests with the encouragement of new respect for human rights by the Chinese government. Changes in Chinese policy will not come easily or soon, but China’s brutal treatment of dissidents and its casting aside of international agreements must not go unchallenged.
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