2-10-2012By Quinn O'Keefe
Senior Associate, Human Rights Defenders Program
Last summer Vice President Biden visited China and inadvertently legitimized the Chinese government’s claim that human rights are exclusively American values. He said this to a group students from Sichuan University in Chengdu:
“Maybe the biggest difference in our respective approaches are our approaches to what we refer to as human rights. I recognize that many of you in this auditorium see our advocacy of human rights as at best an intrusion, and at worst an assault on your sovereignty. I want to tell you directly that this is not our intention. Yes, for Americans there is a significant moral component to our advocacy. And we observed where we have failed, as well. But it is who our people are.”
But human rights are not something that the U.S. government imposes on other countries. Human rights are, simply, universal.
The White House has since reformed its language and has called human rights universal in a number of speeches. The administration should not shy away from repeating this message to the likely next president of China, Vice President Xi Jinping, during his reciprocal visit to Washington D.C. next week.
Little is known in the West about Xi and what kind of president he would be, but given China’s escalating assault on human rights activists as it attempts to stave off a so-called Jasmine Revolution, there is no indication he will be any different than the present administration. That’s not acceptable.
As the Chinese people become more dynamic in their dissent, they need a show of support from the United States. We can only hope the White House will finally make human rights a priority its dealings with China.