Clinton's China Agenda Disturbs Rights Advocates

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On her first overseas tour as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton said that U.S. objections to China's human rights record should take a backseat to more pressing economic issues. Human Rights Watch Asia spokesperson Sophie Richardson reacts to those remarks.


Secretary of State Clinton's comments about China's human-rights record didn't go unnoticed by human-rights advocates like Sophie Richardson, the Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch.

Ms. Richardson joins me in the studio now. Thank you for coming in.

Ms. SOPHIE RICHARDSON (Asia Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch): Thank you for having me.

LYDEN: What is your organization's reaction to the secretary of state's stance on China's human-rights record?

Ms. RICHARDSON: Well, we have two primary concerns. The first is that as a tactical matter, to suggest before she's even gotten to Beijing to try to stake out a position, that she's not going to attempt to do that at all, is quite problematic.

It's really the posture that a diplomat takes on a first visit like this that sets the tone for the whole relationship. And I'm sure that the Chinese government is delighted to hear that Secretary Clinton has already decided to give up the ghost on this particular issue.

Second of all, to suggest that human-rights concerns shouldn't be allowed to interfere, and that was Secretary Clinton's word, with these other pressing concerns, I think, suggests that the administration doesn't realize or isn't going to use those other issues as a vehicle to promote rights. And that's equally problematic.

LYDEN: Well, what the secretary said is - Mrs. Clinton said is, we know we're going to press them to reconsider their position about Tibetan religious and cultural freedom. She went on to say, I've had those conversations for more than a decade with Chinese leaders. What about the position implied here that both sides already know what the other's position is?

Ms. RICHARDSON: I think that's not the point. We all already know what the positions are. The question is, how you're going to try to advance it. And to suggest that either you're going to stop trying, or that you're going to make human rights a distant second, at best, to those other concerns, really wastes an important opportunity.

LYDEN: Well, she has said that she will continue to press the Chinese government on these issues. Are you saying that you doubt that?

Ms. RICHARDSON: It's hard not to when she says we're not going to let these things interfere, we already know what - she literally says, we already know what they're going to say. It sounds like she's giving up before she even really gives it a good, hard try.

LYDEN: Sophie Richardson is the advocacy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division. Thanks very much.

Ms. RICHARDSON: Thank you.

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