HRIC Op-Ed: It's all human rights
Human rights come first

Hu Jintao arrives Tuesday for his first visit to the United States as China's president. Announced discussion items include security and non-proliferation, trade and advancing freedoms.

Any way you look at it, it's all about human rights:
  • Peace and security: Human rights cannot be trampled upon under the label of fighting terrorism, including through detentions and crackdowns on peaceful expression of religious, cultural or ethnic identity. The right to life and security of the person are threatened not only by proliferation of nuclear weapons, but also by all threats to human dignity.

  • Trade and finance: While the floating of the yuan and the U.S.-China trade imbalance are on the table, getting a piece of China's widely touted economic growth is the real focus of economic negotiations. But the realities of the growing divides between the rich and the poor, urban and rural residents, and Han Chinese and ethnic minorities threaten to undermine the sustainability and stability of China's economic growth and reforms. These increasing divides are undermining the human rights to education, and work and health, as well as fueling rising social unrest and protests.

  • Advancing freedoms: With the help of foreign companies, including U.S. information technology corporations, China has built a state-of-the-art censorship and surveillance system. Through this advanced technology, comprehensive regulation and an effective police apparatus, the Chinese government is able to undermine freedom of expression, association and religion, and an independent press.

A strong human rights message must be sent in these high-profile meetings between government and other officials, business leaders and President Hu.

An educated, healthy and informed citizenry is the best foundation for security and peace, economic development and true social stability. What does or doesn't happen in China to protect the human rights and human dignity of one-fifth of the world's population will affect all of us.

First published as "Human rights come first" in USA Today on April 18, 2006.

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