China's Defense of its Human Rights Policies
Penn State Journal of Law and International Affairs (invited symposium submission, forthcoming 2021)
31 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2021 Last revised: 16 Mar 2021
Date Written: March 9, 2021
Although the United States has launched repeated attacks on China’s human rights policies for the past three decades, China’s Communist Party has been able to mount an effective defense and counterattack that has resonated with China’s citizens, the most important constituency for the Party. Without the trust and support of its citizens, the Party will lose its power. China has been able to mount this defense based on three prongs: tradition, law, and morality.
Appealing to traditional Confucian doctrine, the Party portrays itself as an authoritarian but benevolent patriarch. In the area of law, China, a skillful litigator in the WTO, has been able to overturn the first wave of punitive tariffs imposed by the Trump Administration. China has also
been able to gain the higher moral ground. Cleverly using arguments first raised by politicians
and others in the United States, China claims that the United States has engaged in human rights
abuses that are far more egregious than any in China.
For the past three decades, the United States has attempted to pressure or cajole China into progress in its human rights policies without success. Meanwhile China the tiger cub has grown into China the tiger. The United States must finally accept the sober realization that it is unlikely to be able to influence significant positive change in China’s human rights policies. Criticism of China’s human rights policies can realistically only serve two purposes: it can used to justify sanctions against China in other areas, such as trade, the environment, and the military. This appears to have been the strategy of the Trump Administration, which advanced a new view of China as the arch villain of the modern world. Otherwise, criticism will serve a symbolic purpose only. Only with this sober recognition will the United States and the Biden Administration be able to approach its relationship with China now and in the future with realistic expectations.
Keywords: United States, China, Human Rights, International Trade, Jackson-Vanik Amendment, Most Favored Nation
JEL Classification: K20, K33, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation