Today, President Obama embarks on his first and much-anticipated presidential tour of Asia. As part of his nine-day trip, Obama visits China next week to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Definite topics on the table for discussion are the economy, climate change, and the North Korean nuclear disputes. What remains unclear, however, is Obama’s willingness to press the subject of human rights with Jintao publicly, despite chilling testimony given by Chinese citizens this week during the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s congressional hearings.
President Obama said that he plans to mention human rights to President Jintao directly, but he did not elaborate. Likewise, the White House’s explanation of Obama’s new strategic reassurance approach to China relations is ambiguous at best. White House officials only reveal that the strategy is designed to highlight areas of commonality and face areas of contrast head-on. Jeff Bader, the National Security Council’s senior director for East Asia, said that Obama will likely address freedom of expression, freedom of religion and Tibet with Jintao. However, the Obama Administration has made no indication that Obama will talk about human rights publicly like he did during speeches in Egypt, Ghana, Turkey, and at the United Nations, or that he will challenge one of China’s most oppressive and long-standing strategies, the One-Child Policy.
The One-Child Policy, or Family Planning Policy, officially restricts the number of children that married, urban Chinese couples can produce. The policy was introduced in the 1970’s as a means to combat poverty, pollution, and overpopulation in China. Since then, the Chinese government has used a variety of harsh tactics to ensure the policy’s success, such as forced abortions, infanticide, and forced sterilizations. The ancillary effects of this policy include gender preference, child abandonment, and the arrests and torture of pregnant women.
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearings earlier this week confirm that this policy is still widely-followed. During the hearings, a Chinese woman gave heart-wrenching testimony about the forced abortion of her unborn child. The woman explained that her baby’s body was injected with poison, cut from her womb, and displayed to her in its dismembered form before being thrown in the trash. While the Commission’s findings have since circulated Internet news sources, little mention was made of this topic in mainstream media and TV news reports. This is a far cry from the publicity this policy received nearly fifteen years ago. In the mid-1990’s, China’s One-Child Policy was discussed in schools and was frequently seen on the news. In fact, I remember former classmates whose parents adopted Chinese girls who were abandoned as a result of the policy. Over the last decade, however, the US-government’s stance and thus, the media’s coverage concerning this policy have grown weak.
The US government’s reticence to hold China accountable for their human rights abuses has gone on long enough. Clearly, President Obama must continue to build positive US-China relations, something that President Bush was able to accomplish through his non-confrontational approach of constructive engagement, but does this mean that human rights must continue to take a backseat? Despite President Obama’s insistence that he will mention China’s human rights abuses to Jintao, critics and Chinese policy experts alike believe that he will not press the issue. Similarly, Obama’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama when he visited the US in October and his plans to skip Tibet during his first Asian tour amid China’s warnings indicate Obama’s unwillingness to challenge China on touchy subjects.
The future of US-China relations is dependent on many, critical issues. Human rights violations should certainly be among them. Next week, President Obama has the perfect opportunity to make a strong, public US statement against China’s oppressive policies as well as solidify his own policy objectives towards the treatment of human rights with China. I hope he will seize the opportunity and run with it.
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