In recent years, China has moved to open up its economy. In addition to increasing its trade with the U.S. and other countries, China is cooperating on issues of worldwide concern, including the war against terrorism. But as China participates more actively in world affairs and moves forward with an ambitious economic development strategy, it will need to reexamine not only its policies on trade and weapons proliferation, but also on human rights.
As U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on November 5th, “China has signed on to a number of international human rights obligations. We want to see those obligations met. Only by allowing the Chinese people to think, speak, assemble and worship very, very freely, only then will China fully unleash the talents of its citizens and reach its full potential as a member of the international community.”
Over the past year, China has released some political prisoners. But overall, said Mr. Powell, the U.S. has been disappointed by China’s recent “backsliding” on human rights. It is especially troubling that Chinese of various faiths continue to be persecuted for seeking to worship freely and that activists continue to be jailed for advocating political reforms or promoting a greater flow of information via the Internet.
On November 6th, President George W. Bush spoke on U.S. efforts to promote freedom around the world. He pointed to the extraordinary growth of democracy, especially in central Europe, Latin America, and some parts of Asia. But in other places, notably the Middle East, he said, “democracy has not yet taken root.” Mr. Bush said, “Our commitment to democracy is [also] tested in China”:
“That nation now has a sliver, a fragment of liberty. Yet, China’s people will eventually want their liberty pure and whole. China has discovered that economic freedom leads to national wealth. China’s leaders will also discover that freedom is indivisible -- that social and religious freedom is also essential to national greatness and national dignity.”
As President Bush said, “human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty."