A Nuanced Approach to China Needs Human Rights at the Core

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A Nuanced Approach to China Needs Human Rights at the Core

By William Nee, a research & advocacy coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

Originally published by FP on Apr. 07, 2023

Calls for a rethink against groupthink can’t neglect real atrocities.

Police stand on guard during a rally for the victims of a deadly fire, as well as a protest against China’s harsh COVID-19 restrictions, in Beijing on Nov. 28, 2022. NOEL CELIS/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Foreign policy pundits have been calling for a rethink to counter Washington’s alleged groupthink. There’s a certain truth in that. But one element has been missing from the mainstream of the new doves on China: human rights. Without this, their words can end up sounding hollow—especially to the victims.

Two recent events prompted new levels of concern. First, on Feb. 4, U.S. President Joe Biden made the decision to shoot down a Chinese surveillance balloon after it flew across U.S. territory. Second, a new committee in Congress, the House select committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), held its first public hearing on Feb. 28. It was the assessment by Rep. Mike Gallagher that the CCP posed an “existential” threat, and the seeming bipartisan agreement to the assessment, that set off alarm bells.

Prominent foreign affairs commentators Fareed Zakaria and Edward Luce accused the new bipartisan consensus of groupthink that could lead to war. Max Boot warned of “bipartisan alarmism” and called for a nuanced assessment of the CCP’s threat. On April 5, a group of prominent American former officials and CEOs, including former U.S. ambassadors to China, published an open letter to Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping urging them to “work diligently to repair and stabilize the state of affairs between our two countries.”

The common denominator to these op-eds and open letter seemed to be the perception that U.S.-China relations have gone dangerously off track. And indeed, while the CCP may pose a severe challenge to the United States, Washington needs to have a well thought out strategy, should not blame China for its domestic ills, and should not needlessly forsake opportunities for communication and cooperation with China.

But, for a real check on groupthink and a more nuanced perspective to win the day, policymakers and thinkers must address the role of human rights, which has been largely absent from the critique of the new bipartisan consensus thus far. Addressing human rights strongly is not only the moral thing to do, but it is necessary for a nuanced approach in order to have any hope of having those views adopted as policy. Without this, the advocates of a more calibrated approach to Beijing may end up alienating the significant communities threatened by China’s growing crackdowns—and even implicitly endorsing Beijing’s actions.

(View the rest of the article here).

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