Secretary Clinton Explains U.S. "Pragmatic Policy" on Human Rights

December 15, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C.–After side-stepping human rights concerns in China earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton firmly outlined the current U.S. diplomatic position on international human rights in her statement delivered at Georgetown University on Monday, December 14th. Confronting the issue head on, she underscored the State Department’s commitment to human rights with a “pragmatic stance,” asserting that U.S. human rights policy toward political and economic giants like Russia and China is often best conducted behind closed doors.

“Principled pragmatism informs our approach on human rights, informs our approach with all countries, but particularly with key countries like China and Russia.” (AFP) Secretary Clinton expounded on the Obama Administration’s commitment to this soft-power type diplomacy, but also asserted that some cases do require a public denouncement or action.

“In China, we call for protection of rights of minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang,” she said. Later she added, “The United States also pushes for the right of people in China to “express oneself and worship freely” as well as for civil society and religious groups to advance their causes within a legal framework.” The Secretary’s spokesman further called specifically for the release of Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese democratic activist facing a 15-year sentence for political dissidence.

Still, her strategic comments emphasized the current administration’s cosmopolitan political approach: “In every instance, our aim will be to make a difference, not to prove a point.”

Along with other human rights advocates, ChinaAid President Bob Fu remains concerned about the implications of a U.S. hidden-negotiation approach to human rights concerns in China.

“In general, Secretary Clinton made good remarks in support of human rights. This is especially encouraging in light of her intentionally pedestrian oversight of human rights concerns, when she pronounced that human rights issues would “not interfere” with security and economic talks in Beijing this February. This time, she has reasserted the equal importance of human rights, pointing to religious freedom and other human rights concerns as related to economic, security, climate issues. This is a right step forward.”

“But the choice of a closed-door approach to China has produced little progress so far, without the simultaneous efforts to speak up publicly about human rights concerns. We can only welcome a principled engagement of ‘pragmatic policy,’ as long as this strategy does not become the means or excuse for shirking our greater responsibilities to defending freedom and principle.”

Quotes from Secretary Clinton’s address and information were used from article published by Agence-France Presse. Click here to read the “U.S. takes a pragmatic rights approach to China, Russia,” by AFP’s Lachlan Carmichael.
Read Secretary Clinton’s Speech at Georgetown (Madame Secretary’s Blog).
Read “Clinton Outlines Human Rights Policy,” by David Alexander
for Reuters.

China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985

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