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Custom Conflict Over Human Rights Essay


China and the US have had long standing differences on the concept of human rights and sovereignty. This paper will analyze two instances where the US and China have come to loggerheads in the past two years on these issues. It will basically be the relationship between President Barack Obama’s administration and President Hu Jintao’s leadership.  It will then look at how the issues were resolved. 

The Liu Xiaobo Issue

Liu Xiaobo is a human rights activist in China, and has been convicted for engaging in activities meant to overthrow the Chinese communist government. He was nominated and went on to win the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize much to the delight of the US but to the chagrin of the Chinese government.  China’s Foreign Ministry termed the award decision as “wrong,” and that “ the Nobel Committee's decision to grant the Peace Prize to a convicted criminal was tantamount to overt support for criminal activities in China, and a gross interference in China's judicial sovereignty.” Even human rights and legal experts in China were said to oppose the award of the Prize to Xiaobo (Yang 2010)

However, Mr. Liu Xiaobo is a hero in the US.  Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers were for a resolution which saw the US congratulate Xiaobo for receiving the Prize and called on the Chinese government to “release Liu and all other political and religious detainees from prison” and that they were joyous that Liu Xiaobo’s “efforts to promote peaceful change in China” had been recognized (Saine 2010).

Differences on North Korea

North Korea has been deemed for a very long time to be one of the greatest violators of human rights. According to human rights organization, Amnesty International, “North Koreans sent to prison camps and detention centers are often subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Prisoners are punished if suspected of lying, not working fast enough or forgetting the words of patriotic songs. Forms of punishment include beatings, forced exercise, sitting without moving for prolonged periods of time and humiliation. Due to the combination of forced hard labor, inadequate food, beatings, lack of medical care and unhygienic living conditions, many prisoners fall ill and die in custody or soon after release”(Amnesty International, 2010).

China has been the most influential nation on North Korea. Owing to the former’s record on issues of human rights, it is unwise to expect China to condemn North Korea over such issues. The US has long argued that China’s protectionism and continuously denying the UNHCR access to the North Koreans in their territory exacerbates North Korea’s disregard for human rights (Amnesty International, 2010).

US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton has been on record calling “China’s record on human rights “deplorable” and suggesting that a popular demand for democracy eventually would unseat China’s rulers…” (Appelbaum, 2011)

On a visit to China in 2010, both Mrs. Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden castigated the communist nation. But in a rejoinder, China has argued that the US should mind its business and stop interfering in China’s affairs. China thinks that most of those who have been making statements about human rights issues are using it for political gain and publicity and that the country has made historical strides in opening up freedom for her citizenry (Appelbaum, 2010).

The Obama administration has however been accused of soft pedaling when it comes to the issue of human rights in China. Human rights activists and lawmakers feel the US President should have been tougher when he visited China in 2009 and when the Chinese visited the US in early 2011.  The Washington Post wrote in its editorial after Hu Jintao’s visit that Obama, not Hu, "responded in a perfunctory manner, offered excuses for Beijing and concluded that disagreement on human rights 'doesn't prevent us from cooperating in these other critical areas,”(Ferarro T & Chris Buckley, 2010)

Mrs. Clinton was later quoted saying that “every nation was different” (Appelbaum, 2010), when asked about human rights issues in the presence of Chinese officials.

Why the Stances

The US believes that it is her duty to see that nations respect and uphold the rights of their citizens. When meeting the visiting Chinese President, US House of Representatives Speaker Joe Boehner said that "Chinese leaders have a responsibility to do better and the United States has a responsibility to hold them to account" (Spetalnick, 2011).

China however wants the US to keep off her internal affairs reiterating the concept of sovereignty. Benoune (2002) writes that although many countries use the concept of sovereignty to perpetrate human rights abuses, the “erosion or violation of such sovereignty by another nation can also occasion grave abuses.” For example, when sanctions are imposed on a country, the innocent citizens of that country will suffer for the sins of their leaders.

Thus as much as the US would want to make China respect human dignity, it’s unconstitutional to erode her sovereignty. China should on the other hand use her sovereignty to protect citizens from harms committed by others. The concept of sovereignty as the will of the people and not of the leaders should also be inculcated (Benoune 2002, pg 261). China and the US have never fully resolved any differences but the past two years has seen President Obama assume a “softer” stance so as not to irk China.

Custom Conflict Over Human Rights Essay

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