Friday, September 02, 2016

Other State's Human Rights: The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) Decry China’s Repression of Civil Society and Rights Defenders

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) tends to be a good barometer of legislative thinking about China in the United States. Not that this thinking is either coherent or well directed. But it does represent the way in which U.S. "China expert" elites and their legislative masters develop "knowledge" about China. This knowledge is then used to shape U.S. policy and legislative approaches U.S. China relations. It also suggests the way that U.S. ideological thinking shapes the way in which China is viewed as understood by the United States.

This characterization is not meant to suggest a personal position on either the outlook or work of the CECC, or of its advisers. That characterization, however, does suggest that ideological blinders tend to tell us more about the U.S. (in this case) than it does about the Chinese. It is with the object of helping to understanding American construction of China, rather than of helping to understand Chinese constructions of themselves (however "flawed either exercise may be in and of itself and to itself), that this announcement is offered.

On the eve of the 2016 G 20 Meetings CECC issued a press release "Chairs Say President Should Lead G-20 Effort To Raise Concerns about China’s Repression of Civil Society and Rights Defenders" which follows below along with my brief observations. 

The recent (re)turn in American politics away from pragmatic efforts to build markets and economic relations between peoples that marked the early post-Soviet period back to a more ideological position in which a set of western democratic international agenda now drives American foreign policy is much in evidence across the globe.  While a sub stratum of American policy remains committed to the construction of a globalized community--a project which produced remarkable success for American economic and societal cultures as a global baseline--the political elite and their allies in the media and academic classes have become yet again more ideologically than pragmatically driven.  They have assumed again that regime change by the instrumental projection of American power abroad (whether hard or soft power) is to be preferred to the organic changes that may inevitably follow within global communities as people engage in sustained interactions in markets for goods, capital, labor and ideas. 

What is remarkable, then, about this statement, which is quite unremarkable as a standard issue political trope, is the blindness of its authors to the irony of its thrust. It reflects the same political self blindness that drove American anti-Soviet rhetoric about freedom in the 1950s which rang a bit hollow when projected into the newly independent African Countries well aware of the actual state of the societal realities of race in the United States. And ironically, China is now stressing pragmatic economics in its interstate relations though a pragmatism that is meant to enhance its own global economic position (see, e.g., here). And China is also resisting human rights ideology as states did in the 1950s, by noting the cracks in the glass house in which the United States "lives."

More interesting is that the project appears designed to fail as intervention.  Or, less charitably, it represents the sort of abysmally faulty vision of elites trapped within their own self referencing little world in which they have only themselves to talk at--and their sycophants.  First, the thrust of the suggestions are a collection of empty gestures, designed to play well with the political elites int he United States and to have the Americans appear as unsophisticated fools elsewhere--though well meaning ones . . . .perhaps. The perhaps because, of course, the Americans have yet to put their own human rights house in order.  Second, preaching has tended to fail as a tactic of politics, and to fail worse when attached to coercion.  The history of religion in control of powerful states does, of course, suggest that it is possible to effect the conversion of large numbers of people through sustained soft coercion--the history of the Middle East and North Africa provides a great example--but the United States is not running a Caliphate. And it is not the 8th century. Third, the suggested actions all seem to point in one direction.  It requires everything of China and nothing of the United States.  Assuming, arguendo, that the tactics suggested are important, for the preservation of the values American political elites at least publicly embrace in theory (and these are important values to be sure--for Americans at least), then it might have been more profoundly effective to suggest something more than a joint statement on human rights.  China would gladly embrace such a statement--they believe they are observing human rights within the context of their own political organization. The Americans believe the same. Fourth, the problem is not one of theory, but of a common language--and more difficult for both states--for the hard discussions about the constraints that these principles may have even within regimes that respect the discretion of states to interpret and apply these principles consistently with their own constitutional orders. China should not avoid discussion of its own shortcomings in building socialist democracy, society and culture in the context of global norms. The United States should not be able to project its human rights agendas outward without an obligation to show good faith efforts to bring those rhetorical stances home. But that would be a set of discussions and actions as deeply difficult for the Americans as for the Chinese--all the more reason for having it. In the meantime--gesture and theatre. . .on both sides. And the wheel turns.   

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Chairs Say President Should Lead G-20 Effort To Raise Concerns about China’s Repression of Civil Society and Rights Defenders

Urge Obama to use last trip to China to raise U.S. profile as defender of freedom and human rights

For Immediate Release

September 1, 2016

(Washington DC)—With the opening of the G-20 Leaders Summit in China this weekend, the Chairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Representative Chris Smith and Senator Marco Rubio, urged President Obama to raise critical human rights issues with Chinese President Xi Jinping and publicly link human rights protections and civil society development to continued progress in U.S.-China relations. The Chairs pressed the Administration to lead an effort with like-minded countries to raise concerns about the strategic consequence of China’s shift to hard authoritarianism under President Xi’s leadership and to raise the cases of detained American Sandy Phan-Gillis and jailed human rights lawyers and religious leaders.

“The Administration still operates as if human rights are a barrier to its other priorities, instead of intimately linked to the progress of U.S. economic and security interests. This is the President’s legacy; he looks uninterested and weak while President Xi runs roughshod over human rights advocates and represses civil society and religious freedom. In his final trip to China, he should do something radically different--mildly raising human rights accomplishes very little,” said Congressman Chris Smith, CECC Chair. The President should consider visiting an illegal church or the wife of jailed Nobel Prize laurate Liu Xiaobo. He should organize a public statement with other G-20 members connecting religious freedom, labor rights and civil society development with economic prosperity and better bilateral cooperation. He should do something that gives heart to China’s freedom advocates and sends a signal that no country benefits from China’s shift to a hard authoritarianism. Sadly, it is unlikely the President will take such steps, as no wants to upset China's big event."

“If the President fails to speak publicly about jailed lawyers or religious leaders, church demolitions and forced confessions, it will send a horrible message to Chinese dissidents and freedom advocates who look to the U.S. for leadership," said Senator Marco Rubio, CECC Cochair. “There is a direct link between human rights protections, civil society development and China’s future economic prosperity, and President Obama should lead other like-minded nations in pressing President Xi to change course. The Chinese government has zero regard for human rights or the rule of law and in fact uses the law, when convenient, to repress and control the Chinese people—and even unjustly detain American citizens such as Sandy Phan-Gillis. China cannot continue to benefit from the international rules-based system while ignoring the rule of law and abusing human rights with impunity."

The President Should Seek Release of Sandy Phan-Gillis: The Chairs also urged President Obama again to raise the case of detained American businesswoman Sandy Phan-Gillis and to urgently seek her immediate and unconditional release. “The case is critically relevant to matters of the G-20 Summit. Her continued detention is bad for the U.S.-China economic relationship, bad for China’s global image, and deeply damaging to our bilateral relationship,“ said the Chairs. See previous statements by the CECC Chairs seeking information about and the release of detained American citizenSandy Phan-Gillis. ###

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