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February 27, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright February 27, 2009. Used by permission.


Following Hillary Clinton’s visit to Asia, there have been a range of commentaries on her new approach to China. Clinton’s downplay of that standard gambit of Sino-American relations, human rights, has pleased some commentators and maddened others. Here’s a selection of five ways of looking at her China visit:

1) A Missed Opportunity, Merle Goldman at the Boston Globe:

The Charter 08 episode in China reveals widespread dissatisfaction with China’s authoritarian market economy, including those who are the supposed beneficiaries of China’s political model. Their participation in the Charter 08 movement may be attributed not only to worsening economic conditions in late 2008 because of the increasing closure of China’s export industries due to slackening demand for Chinese consumer goods in the West, but also questioning of the political system on which the Chinese Communist Party has based its legitimacy. Despite the crackdown, Charter 08 represents a multi-class movement for political change in China that is likely to continue.

Such a movement needs the support of the international community. The worldwide outcry over the crackdown on the Charter 77 movement in Czechoslavakia marked the beginning of the unraveling of the Communist system in Eastern Europe. Clinton’s recent visit to China would have been the appropriate venue for criticism of China’s suppression of Charter 08.

Demands for political change in China will continue. The Obama administration should give more attention to human rights issues in China and support those who advocate peaceful political reforms. Clinton’s trip to China was a missed opportunity.