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November 16, 2009
Putting profits over people in U.S.-China relations

President Obama at the Shanghai town hall meeting. Photo: Al Jazeera English video

In his maiden voyage to East Asia as commander-in-chief, President Obama has emphasized how the U.S. and China need to work together on global issues.

As China becomes a more visible player on the world stage, the U.S. is ambivalent about how to balance trade interests with concern for human rights.

Given the importance of the China-U.S. economic relationship, is the United States putting too much emphasis on human rights in China?

Tell us what you think in the comments section below. Please remember to be respectful and on-point in your comments. Malicious or offensive comments will be deleted and repeat offenders will be banned.

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It should be obvious to anyone with a shred of neuron that, voting + politicians = waste of time. Who cares about human rights when there’s profit to be made, uh? What a joke.


I sense from the tone of comments posted — and others withheld by your editors — that American concepts of free speech are already being over-chilled by excessive concerns over Chinese reactions. But when we mortgage our freedom by financing tax cuts with easy foreign credit, do we repeat the mortal error of Esau, who sold his birthright for a mere bowl of porridge?


why dont we take care of our issues let countries alone thanks


Reality check for the U.S.A
1) We don’t have the moral high ground to discuss human rights with any country (Guantanamo, Haditha anyone?)
2) We don’t have the economic advantage anymore when it comes to China (if they dump all our debt, our economy will nosedive into depression. Why does the right keep on insisting the bluster? Just for show?


I think that it’s proper to place an emphasis on human rights – but do it behind closed doors in a diplomatic way. If we put the Chinese on the spot in public – we won’t get very far. The Chinese need America and America needs China. This economy mess has proved that. But equally important we need good relations with China for our overall Asia policies and security. We cannot allow the Russians to slip in behind the scene and undercut us which if we try and tell the Chinese what to do with their government – could unveil the opportunities for the Russians. There’s a lot more at state for the US than another countrys human rights policies. JIM @ USA


We should not indiscriminately critisize China’s Human Rights. The Chinese 1.3 billion people have seen a huge improvement in their Standard of Living recently. They have a system that works. Recognizing the uncontrollable global explosion of humanity from a constant 1/4 billion global population up until year 1800, today there are over 6 billion souls, and we will see over 10 billions of in our lifetime, China is the only country with a one child per family sensible policy. We in the West can learn from China before our planet is destroyed. Sorensen


While I applaud President Obama’s support for human rights during his China visit, I fear that rhetorical steps alone would be too limited: Rather than appeal as a supplicant for restoration of free speech, assembly and labor rights, he should restore the approach to human rights proudly held by the U.S. during the Cold War with the Soviet Union: Then, the Jackson-Vanick amendment expressly linked liberalized trade to progress on human rights. One indirect fruit of this consistent stance was the fall of the Berlin Wall, whose 20th anniversary we celebrated just last week.
Ironically, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre only a few months ago, last June, and yet, it seems that the American ideal of freedom for which the Cold War was supposedly waged, has been distorted by America’s response to that tragedy: We’ve seemed to care more for the freedom of businessmen to profit from the cut-rate wages of oppressed workers, than for the freedom of the workers themselves.
And in the process, by forcing Americans to compete at wage rates discounted by official oppression, we’ve seen their earning power decline, and indirectly, we’ve also witnessed mortgage appraisals, land values and related economic indicators depressed, arguably contributing to the recent banking crisis. Over barely a generation, America has accepted this situation as the norm.
At this juncture, our “free trade” paradigm should be reformed, to allow for adjustments calculated solely to off-set in-kind subsidies to foreign products reflecting any forced denial of rights, without thereby prompting charges of “protectionism.” Such a correction would go a long way toward restoring America’s long-tarnished claim to leadership on human rights, while marking an essential element of any sustainable economic policy at home.




I am a PROUD U.S. Citizen & also a registered member of Republican Party. Being a Republican I have been critical and in disagreement with President Obama political points of view, domestic policy, and International relations style. TODAY, I stand WITH The President not just as an American but as a human and child of G_D. Obama’s remarks in regards to UNIVERSAL RIGHTS are spot on. I have been so ENORMOUSLY BLESSED to have been born to a Nation so FREE AND JUST. I believe the rights of every American are the rightsof birth for all humans. I AM EXTREMELY HONORED AND PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN and PROUD OF OUR PRESIDENTS COURAGE AND INTEGRITY this week in Asia!!!


You can never put to much emphasis on human rights.


I am hearing voices say, “what’s in your head”. I think this is a time for the presidency to litigate commensuration in a commitment through a popular world policy.


If Pres.Obama does not emphasize human rights for those in Tibet, East Turkestan, Burma, or the countless who struggle for freedom in China proper, he seriously loses moral authority to raise the issue anywhere else in the world. He should do good on living up to his recent Nobel Peace Prize!


I wish we would do more good in the world in practice and not verbally vilify other nations trying to find their own way in this tough world. Having served during Vietnam and being in many Asian countries, I saw that their challenges were not ours. Mere day to day survival and improvement were the greatest challenges I saw. I don’t think we Americans are in an ‘unblemished’ position to dictate to other countries how they should meet their own challenges.
Only through constructive dialog and gaining knowledge and empathy for these countries can we be of any real help.


President Obama handled the issue of human rights with just the right emphasis. His talk with the Chinese students on Monday was magnificent. The more difficult topics of Tibet and Taiwan he can talk about privately with the Chinese leaders. He is a master of diplomacy and we need him. Thank God we have him as our President.


I think the Chinese government needs to constantly be reminded that everyone else is watching. I believe that they already do know that they can only keep their own population under ‘information lock down’ for so long.The ‘absolute control’ under which they believe they can remand their population for the sake of economic development is, I believe , already cracking at the edges. The issue of ‘Human Rights’ which we and the rest of the West continue to hold over their heads may well be the most expediently humane thing anyone can do for the Chinese people at his time.

Fortunately, like many great nations before them, history will accurately show just how many needed to be ‘sacrificed’ so that they may attain their true ‘magnificence’. All the rest of us can do is to try and lessen the ultimate human cost – by keeping up the pressure. We must not look away for one moment. As I said, history will ultimately hold us all accountable.


I think the question should be; Given the importance of the China-U.S. economic relationship, is the United States putting TOO LITTLE emphasis on human rights in China? Answer is YES.


Thanks anthony oland #13 for bring up the “mixing of church & state” issue. I’d like to add “mixing of interest & state” issue where Washington is swamped by lobbying groups.


The way I see “Putting profits over people in U.S.-China relations” is it actually bring change and prosperity to ordinary Chinese.


After we find Bush and Cheney guilty of war crimes, I believe we can talk about human rights. Perhaps we could outsource them to China.


The U.S. needs to deal with it’s own difficulties e.g. the mixing of church & state. They are in no position to pontificate to someone who they owe so much money to!


What about the white phosphorus we’re using in Afghanistan? I believe Malalai Joya when she has said this. “The Guardian” has also reported on these claims.

I heard on NPR this past Saturday that CIA agent Swarner, I believe his name was, tortured a prisoner to death. The prisoner’s dead body was photographed with a prison guard giving the thumbs up. Also, on Mahvish Khan said there were a few people who had died in just Guantanomo alone.

The US has still never addressed CIA Iran Analyst Jesse Leaf’s confession that we taught SAVAK Nazi torture techniques. Klaus Barbie most likely trained Bolivia’s US-back government torture techniques too.

“Don’t try and remove the spec of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye when there’s a plank in your own.”

Even if China’s worse than America, America must first confess to their human rights violations before scrutinizing anyone else.

What am I failing to see here? WF, please address this.


There we go again, pontificating about human rights. How would we feel about a head of state coming over here and telling us how our government should behave towards its people.
President Obama also said the U.S. does not force democracy on anyone. Rubbish, every country we trade with, every country we go to war against, and every country we give foreign aid too we dictate human right. Second only to England we are the biggest hypocrites in the world.


The United States should be returning to its human rights roots, from which we have periodically strayed from during our history, after 8 years of torture (pardon the pun). We can never pay enough attention to human rights. We must speak up for the (lack of) rights of the Tibetan (Tibet) and Uigher peoples (Xinjiang/E.Turkestan).


It should not even be a question. Of course the rights of an individual, human rights, is foremost – economic should NOT be a factor, but it is, and here the US is shamelessly too timid about human rights because of the whorish economic relationship it’s forged with China


Human rights in any country is important. The US must remember the its atrocities at Abu Ghraib and the prisoners at Bagram AB before accusing China.


When the US government stops legislating away the rights of their own people, the people they are supposed to protect, then I will take them more seriously about ANY rights, foreign or domestic.


ummm… excuse me but wat could be MORE of an issue than HUMAN RIGHTS??!! we are such a great nation because of our value of the individual, and human beings in general. if we back away from that, there IS NO CIVILIZATION, and therefore no peace…


Let me put Human Rights aside, China is not a foolish country they must see they need to make
it easier for us to lower are deficit too them, if they look at economic history dissension between countries it’s usually that one is too rich or that one owes thee other to much debt or of course to free it’s people from terror, which should cover what I put off earlie.


There can never be too much emphasis on human rights and how China treats their people. It was not that long ago that an iron curtain hung around this country and look at the changes today. As soon as the internet access is less controlled, like the President stated in his talk, then China and its people will emerge. Given the opportunity to talk freely about it in China and on a world stage Pres. Obama did not waste this valueable opportunity to remind China and its leaders that human rights are very, very important.


There is no such thing as too much emphasis on human rights. I think we need more emphasis on human rights, particularly in our dealings with red China. Beijing is openly contemptuous toward the idea of human rights. We must defend human rights wherever and whenever possible.


I think the United States should clean up its own backyard first–before placing any demands upon any other nation-including China. How can the U.S. government ask others to do what it itself does not do within its own borders?


No! We are a Nation of idealists founded on ideals.

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