The US commitment to the universal enjoyment of fundamental human rights, including in the People’s Republic of China, is trending up in the Obama Administration and was given a more prominent place among the wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues covered at the just-concluded Strategic and Economic Dialogue (May 10-11, 2011) in Washington, D.C. The S&ED was led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner on the U.S. side and by State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Vice Premier Wang Qishan on the Chinese side.

The International Campaign for Tibet applauds the vigor with which U.S. senior officials have been privately and publicly pressing Chinese officials on human rights, beginning at the U.S.-China summit in January 2011. Respect for human rights is a crucial factor in the health of government-to-government relations, especially in the U.S.-Chinese relationship, which is among the most important relationships because of its potential to advance or impede progress on political liberalization in China and on global issues.

“By directly asserting the U.S. commitment to the advancement of human rights and raising their concerns about the ongoing Chinese government crackdown against fundamental freedoms, President Obama and his administration are putting America on the side of the people, not the Chinese authorities,” said Todd Stein, Director of Government Relations at the International Campaign for Tibet.

In his remarks at the opening session of the S&ED on May 9, Vice President Biden (who is visiting China soon) appeared to challenge the Chinese government’s often stated rationalizations that the use of force and intimidation is necessary to maintain stability and that the right to material development surpasses all others. “President Obama and I believe strongly as does the Secretary that protecting fundamental rights and freedoms such as those enshrined in China’s international commitments, as well as in China’s own constitution, is the best way to promote long-term stability and prosperity of any society.” At the same session, Secretary Clinton said, “We see reports of people, including public interest lawyers, writers, artists, and others, who are detained or disappeared. And we know over the long arch of history that societies that work toward respecting human rights are going to be more prosperous, stable, and successful.”

Secretary Clinton also made headlines in the June edition of The Atlantic, published online on May 10. In an exclusive interview, Secretary Clinton described Beijing’s human record as “deplorable.” By opposing the advance of democracy, Clinton said that Beijing is “trying to stop history, which is a fool’s errand. They cannot do it. But they’re going to hold it off as long as possible.”

Such tough talk was similarly employed by U.S. diplomats during the April 2011 round of the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue. Following that meeting, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner who led that dialogue accused China of “backsliding” on human rights. “To the extent that there are serious human rights problems, those problems become an impediment to the relationship and they make the other aspects of the relationship more difficult… But inevitably when there’s a deterioration as there has been here, it makes the relationship that much harder,” Posner said.

“The U.S. Administration appears to be taking the right direction in its human rights diplomacy, but moving Beijing to respond with real political reform will require an international effort. We urge governments to work collaboratively in this area. The upcoming G-20 Summit, East Asia Summit, and the U.S.-hosted APEC Leaders meeting provide opportunities for multilateral engagement on the deteriorating rights situation in China and Tibet,” Stein concluded.