Pomfret's China

« Previous Post | Next Post »

More on Hillary, "Freebies", and US-China policy

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?"

Email the Author | Email This Post | Del.icio.us | Digg | Facebook

Comments (6)

Brian75 Author Profile Page:

As a Westerner who lived in China for several years, I find a lot of Western whinging about human rights in China more than a bit disingenuous... not to mention pointless, because as you can see from comments on this blog, most discussions between Westerners and Chinese about human rights tend to devolve into circular finger-pointing that does little to actually alleviate the suffering of people in this world, whether in China or elsewhere. And meanwhile, Sino-US and Sino-European trade rolls on...

But what I find really pathetic about a lot of pro-Tibet Westerners is that a lot of them know very little about Xinjiang and the Uighur people. If the real concern is human rights -- rather than the Western love affair with Tibetan spirituality -- why don't we talk more about the suffering of the Uighurs? Because they're Muslim? Or because too many of us have been drinking Richard Gere's Kool-Aid and enjoy the simplified idea of airy-fairy Tibetan spiritualism? This is by no means a defense of Beijing or a swipe against the Tibetan culture -- it's just that I can understand why a lot of Chinese gag when they hear Westerners blather on about Tibet... not to mention that we should make sure our own butts are clean before we start taking swipes at others. Combating Chinese arguments with crud like "you're brainwashed" also shows a shocking lack of self-awareness about how much we as Westerners tend to be incredibly samey with own opinions... if you really think you get all that balanced a worldview from the Western media, I suggest you spend a few years in a foreign country – ANY foreign country – and wake up.

But the real point to me is that these arguments – whether online or face-to-face with Chinese people -- get nowhere, EVER. Bottom line is that this aggressive finger-pointing by Westerners really does little to help the people of Tibet, and many Chinese will simply bristle if they feel they are being lectured to. Perhaps it's time to change tactics -- in my opinion, anything that brings China diplomatically closer to the West is good, because then there is more of a chance of having a two-way dialogue that actually accomplishes something, instead of the usual Western posturing about what's good for the world. And yeah, that means that the West will have to accept the fact that the situation in Tibet is going to change overnight.

eggplant2 Author Profile Page:

Sounds like the 50 cent party is at it again (see comments below). Nice post Mr Pomfret. I maintain the biggest mistake Sec Clinton made was to box up human rights and put it to the side of our foreign policy towards China instead of integrating it at every level - if it was truly integrated into all of our dialogues, it wouldn't be so offensive to China's angry nationalists (see below), and the softly softly approach - which would actually allow us to talk about human rights a lot more than we do now - would probably be more productive in the long run. Make no mistake, China always complains about people meddling in its foreign affairs, but really it is beginning to export its way of thinking (or not thinking) about human rights to lots of different corners of the world - see Africa and Latin America - and international institutions -see the UN - and I see no reason why we should "de-democratize" ourselves (to borrow a phrase from Edward Friedman) when we deal with China.

sing1 Author Profile Page:

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?"
Wow. You guys really think of China as an employee. That explains everything you do and think. Does it?

JamesRaider Author Profile Page:

China is simply flexing its economic muscle before the G20 meeting.


The U.S. Dollar is not about to be replaced, regardless what China's wishes might be.

horsham Author Profile Page:

What an honest guy, Pomfret, human rights is not something you would really give a darn; you just want to use it as a bargaining chip, not a "freebies". The problem is that when your opponent knew that you were bargaining with this "human rights chip", it lost its value instantly.

This is why most of the Chinese population have long parted their way with the western "human rights guardians". They respect those who genuinely fight for human rights, but ignore those in the West who want to use this issue as a diplomatic stick to beat their government in order to take advantage in an array of other issues.

Pomfret and people like him is too smart by half.

ecodelta Author Profile Page:

"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), "

That is a very good observation. The concept of friendship, as used by chinese here, has no relation to the same concept as we understand it.
Specially at personal level

It is dangerously close to subservience.

Another thing. When a diplomat let his/her decisions be based on friendship concerns, he/she is being pretty naive or just being manipulated or trying to manipulate the other party.

The same thing about those "hurt feelings" things we hear from time to time.

China is a tough country, with a very tough government... and the political/economical/any-other relations are going to be tough indeed in many issues.
They will not give anything in exchange for nothing. And getting something will always involve hard dealing. Any one used to barter in Asia can attest that.

We must not let ourselves be fooled by the panda effect. Dont forget that a panda is a bear , cuter than the Russian bear but a bear after all.
One must bee careful with dealing with big bears,.. and with dragons much more ;-)

Links & Resources

Visit Pomfret's Website
PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.