U.S. Human Rights Diplomacy Should Stop

Less than two months after Joe Biden’s administration took office, a key phrase has repeatedly emerged, “America is back.” People have seen that the Biden administration has partially reversed the Trump administration’s resistance to multilateral institutions, and successively announced that the United States had rejoined the Paris Agreement, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Human Rights Council. The return of the U.S. to multilateralism is welcomed, and the international community also expects the U.S. to assume its due responsibility in responding to the global public health management crisis and global environmental issues, opposing contemporary forms of racism and tackling other issues. Of course, along with America’s return there comes American human rights diplomacy. Recently, the U.S. has repeated its old tricks, utilizing high-density tricks of human rights diplomacy. Currently in the 46th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, the U.S. has been actively engaged inside and outside the arena. Its tactics include presenting unprovoked criticisms of what they call human rights issues in China’s Xinjiang and Hong Kong regions during the general debate of the Human Rights Council, and, at home, allowing individual Congress members to submit draft legislation to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics.

The U.S. has always been an eager advocate and practitioner of value-based diplomacy and human rights diplomacy. After the end of the Cold War, the U.S. continued to increase its human rights diplomacy, emphasizing opposition to rapidly developing countries, especially China. Since 1990, the U.S. on 11 occasions assembled or instigated other Western countries to put forward anti-China proposals to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The U.S. State Department publishes a “National Human Rights Report” every year, making irresponsible remarks on the human rights situation in many countries, including China. In 1993, recently inaugurated President Bill Clinton announced that China’s most-favored-nation status should be linked to human rights. After Barack Obama came to power in 2008, the U.S. human rights diplomatic offensive continued unabated to maintain and consolidate its moral high ground as a “defender of human rights.” In 2010, the U.S. National Security Strategy listed the economy, security, international order and human rights as the four core interests and issues of the U.S. In the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogues that began in 2009, the U.S. has repeatedly listed human rights as one of the topics for discussion. After Donald Trump took office, brazenly launching a trade war with China and promoting the decoupling of Sino-U.S. economic and technology trade, Sino-U.S. relations took a sudden turn for the worse. The U.S. Congress has passed several bills relating to human rights in the regions of Xinjiang and Hong Kong, openly interfering in China’s internal affairs. In particular, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeatedly attacked China’s socialist system, the Communist Party of China, the Chinese government, and the Chinese people, and maliciously slandered China for violating religious freedoms. On the last day of his tenure, Pompeo still tried his best to attack China’s policies in Xinjiang, attempting to erect obstacles to Sino-U.S. relations after Biden came to power. Not long after Biden took power, Secretary of State Antony Blinken took over Pompeo’s rhetoric to continue unnecessarily hyping up what they call the human rights issue in Xinjiang.

Needless to say, respecting and promoting human rights has already become the mainstream call from the international community. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is also one of the aims and purposes stipulated by the Charter of the United Nations. China has always actively promoted the development of human rights in the world. The 1991 white paper “Human Rights in China” emphasized that China recognizes and respects the purpose and principle of the U.N. Charter to protect and promote human rights, praises and supports the efforts of the U.N. to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms in general, and actively participates in U.N. activities relating to the field of human rights. In 2018, General Secretary Xi Jinping sent a letter to a symposium commemorating the 70th anniversary of the issuance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, emphasizing that the Chinese people are willing to work with people of all countries to uphold peace, development, equality, justice, democracy, freedom and collective human value, as well as safeguarding human rights and dignity. Xi also spoke in favor of promoting the formation of a more just, reasonable, and inclusive human rights governance, jointly building a community of people with a shared future, and creating a better future for the world.

In contrast, U.S. human rights diplomacy seems to have reached a dead end. Certainly, including human rights concerns in a country’s foreign policy can enhance the moral appeal of it. However, if human rights diplomacy is used as a tool to realize national interests, then human rights are politicized, double standards are adopted on human rights issues, and political confrontations are frequent, then the morality of human rights diplomacy will be entirely degraded. It is obvious that while the U.S. on the one hand calls for human rights and humanitarianism, on the other hand it has repeatedly incited conflicts in places such as Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. While accusing other countries of violating human rights, the U.S. created incidents of torture in Guantanamo Bay that shocked the world. While accusing other countries of suppressing democratic movements, the U.S. suppressed demonstrations against racism within its own country. It is no wonder that U.S. human rights diplomacy has been shamefully labeled “World Famous Double Standards” as more and more people clearly see the hypocritical nature of this diplomacy. In fact, U.S. human rights diplomacy has repeatedly run into walls and is widely unpopular. In 1994, under dual pressures at home and abroad, Clinton announced the abolition of the practice of linking human rights with most-favored-nation status for China. As of 2004, the 11 anti-China human rights bills put forward by the U.S. and other Western nations in the U.N. Human Rights Commission have all ended in failure. In 2018, the U.S. failed to woo European Union countries to reform the Human Rights Council and even withdrew, which sent the international public into a frenzy. In 2020, the U.S. failed to combat the pandemic and turned away from China and the World Health Organization, in the end announcing its withdrawal from the organization. In fact, facing wave after wave of U.S. human rights diplomatic attacks, the Chinese people have become increasingly calm, getting somewhat used to this pattern.

There is an old Chinese saying that goes: “Turn inward to examine yourself when encountering difficulties.” The U.S. government should reflect on why human rights diplomacy is so unpopular. U.S. human rights diplomacy is unpopular, and apart from mixing with politics and business it is mainly driven by self-righteousness. Those in power in the U.S. may seek to closely examine the domestic situation fraught with human rights concerns: institutional racism, the proliferation of guns leading to mass casualties, the growing gap between rich and poor … in fact, they don’t all need to be listed. President Biden contributed a few ideas during his inaugural address: “a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism,” “growing inequity” and “extremism, lawlessness, violence. Disease, joblessness, hopelessness.” The number of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. has already surpassed the total number of casualties in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Afghanistan War, and the Iraq War combined. Even President Biden was pained to report that the coronavirus pandemic has taken more lives in a year than in all of World War II. The chronic domestic governance problems in the U.S. are hard to address, and they will certainly not be solved in a day. The Biden administration has a long way to go in promoting and protecting human rights in the U.S. In this regard, people with insight into the West say: For many years, the U.S. has been telling other countries to learn from the U.S., but now it is best for the U.S. to learn from other countries.

Facing a declining trend of human rights diplomacy, what should the U.S. government do? Here, we are willing to share a few ancient poems. First, “by a boat, half-sunken, a thousand others are sailing; Myriad woods in spring are growing beyond this ailing tree.” The world today is facing major changes not seen in a century, and building a community with a shared future for mankind is the right way to move forward. There is no need for the new U.S. government to cling to Cold War thinking, longing for the old style of human rights diplomacy. Second, “the mountains cannot block it, in the end the river flows East.” During the Trump administration, Sino-U.S. relations reached an all-time low, not in line with either country’s strategic interests or the well-being of their people, nor in line with the general expectations of the international community. The United States’ unscrupulous efforts to suppress and contain China ultimately cannot stop China’s steady progress. On the contrary, the prospects for a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation have become increasingly clear.

China-U.S. relations are the most important bilateral relations in the world. President Xi said: “A good relationship between China and the U.S. is not only beneficial to the two countries and the two peoples, but also to the world. We have a thousand reasons to improve Sino-U.S. relations, and no reason to ruin relations.” Looking back, Sino-U.S. relations have changed thousands of times, giving people a deep understanding that issues from the past are lighter now and these ups and downs are just the way of the world. Looking forward, Sino-U.S. relations should continue improving, moving toward a new world. One of the noticeable key words in Biden’s inauguration speech was “unity.” The international community is of course happy to see unity within the U.S. but it hopes even more to see greater unity across the world. For the current plan, China and the U.S. should join hands to promote the formation of a fair, reasonable and inclusive global human rights governance system through international cooperation, and work to build a community with a shared future for mankind.

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