Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

No surprises in Hillary Clinton’s China stance

Last week, my colleague Jesús Vasquez asked if Hillary Clinton would broach controversial human rights issues on her trip to China. The Secretary of State definitively answered him this week in a significant loss for human rights advocates.

When asked in Seoul whether she would seek to influence China’s relations with Tibet and Taiwan, Clinton responded with unusual candor.

“I have had these conversations for more than a decade with Chinese leaders and we know what they’re going to say…and they know what they’re going to say,” Clinton said, before emphasizing that these issues must not impede progress on more agreeable subjects such as the economy.

If this marks a severe break from Clinton’s previous interactions with China: especially her famous 1995 speech defending women’s rights: it is also a completely predictable one. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are up in arms over Clinton’s statements, but it would be foolish for anybody to pretend this marks a real shift in American foreign policy.

The United States has always fancied itself, to quote Woodrow Wilson, “the force of moral principle.” Although this image is bolstered by several cases where it held true: World War II comes to mind: our international relations have always been dictated by the demands of convenience and strategy rather than “moral principle.”

Time and time again, we have sacrificed our high-minded ethical platitudes for the sake of economic and military advantage. Take our support of the despotic and profligate Shah of Iran. Or our alliance with Saudi Arabia, which has a terrible record on women’s rights. Or our military aid to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. Or our chronic unwillingness to take a stand against Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians. One could name dozens of other murderous dictators enriched by American dollars and weapons.

Despite these repeated transgressions against our stated moral policy, we managed to maintain the image of ethical goodwill. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo changed all of that, revealing that not only are we willing to tolerate torture from our allies, but actively practice it in our own prisons as well.

With this history in mind, it is evident that China has outgrown the need to tolerate hypocritical, high-minded rhetoric chastising its internal policies. As the largest foreign holder of American debt, China has unparalleled control over the U.S. economy. The United States cannot afford to impose any meaningful sanctions against China, and all parties know it.

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All Whitman Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • H

    hsr0601Feb 27, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    To be sure, both countries need to develop dialogue over human rights continuously, regardless of the issue of bond.

    However, while not a single media keep faith in peace / democracy over Gaza Holocaust, Hillary Clinton made it clear that we can not give up peace.

    Facing up to Obama’s extended invasion, I’d rather announce that it’s not the end of invasion, just a subtraction from Iraq and an addition to Afghanistan, and return to the same old failed policy increasing deficit and ruining democracy.

    With regard to the position toward women, the status is akin to more than cowardice, I think.