Long-time US diplomat Hank Levine disagrees with my criticism of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent announcement that the US plans to downplay human rights with China. In a post on his new blog Levine takes me to task for disagreeing with Clinton's move to state publicly that the US will not aggressively defend human rights in China and that there are other more important things; the global economic crisis and global warming to name but two.
I am not, and have never been, a guy who believes human rights need to be front and center in our dialogue with China. It's an extraordinarily complex and rich relationship and, to sound like an aging windbag here, if you look at my China reporting, human rights played a part, but not a huge one. Global warming and our common financial/economic fate are obviously more critical topics. However, I part company with Levine and others who've communicated to me offline on the issue of tactics, which was what my post was about.
I criticized Clinton's statement on human rights not because I disagreed with it, but because I felt she was unnecessarily giving China a freebie. In her attempt (perhaps) to break with her past in China (I'm thinking here of the problems she had during the Beijing's Women's Forum in 1995), in her attempt to (perhaps) be likeable (There's no shortage of American diplomats who've bought into the whole very weird Chinese concept of friendship), she -- without prompting and without a clear tit-for-tat -- gave away too much. That, to me, is not sage diplomacy. The Chinese negotiate with us very seriously. Each inch they give us, they do so after a fight. We should be equally as tough; not nasty, not unfriendly, but tough.
As an American friend and 26-year resident of Beijing said to me the other day: "Would you give one of your employees a 20 percent raise for nothing? No, right? Never. Why would we do this with China?"