A vote for pragmatism

Let us start by saying that China's record of human rights abuses is appalling. Let us accept as a given that China's policies on Tibet and Taiwan are disgraceful. Let us accept these as such commonly-accepted facts that outside links are superfluous. Should you wish to argue that this is not the case, please feel free to do so in the comments section. But, for my purposes, let us begin there.

I understand why the human rights community would be concerned by Sec. Clinton's comments about China today. Via TPM:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that the debate with China over human rights, Taiwan and Tibet cannot be allowed to interfere with attempts to reach consensus on other broader issues.

Shortly before arriving in Beijing on the last leg of her inaugural trip abroad as America's top diplomat, Clinton told reporters accompanying her that she would raise those contentious issues, but noted that neither side is likely to give ground on them.

Instead, she said it might be better to agree to disagree on long-standing positions and focus instead on U.S.-Chinese engagement on climate change, the global financial crisis and security threats.


"We know we're going to press them to reconsider their position about Tibetan religious and cultural freedom and autonomy for the Tibetans and some kind of recognition or acknowledgment of the Dalai Lama and we know what they're going to say," Clinton said.

"I have had those conversations for more than a decade with Chinese leaders and we know what they're going to say about Taiwan and military sales and they know what we're going to say," she said.

"We have to continue to press them," she said. "But our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises. We have to have a dialogue that leads to an understanding and cooperation on each of those."

It is the job of groups like Amnesty International to safeguard human rights, and to highlight abuses thereof. That they are critical of Sec. Clinton's comments (and my fingers still want to type an "n" instead of a "c" in her title, by the bye) is neither surprising nor problematic. I would expect nothing less, and I have no doubt that they will continue to gadfly the Obama administration's China policy surrounding these issues.

But let us be frank. China is going to remain obdurate on those issues for the foreseeable future. They have huge investments in the American economy, and their cooperation is going to be crucial in dealing with the global financial meltdown. If you take seriously the issue of climate change (or, if you prefer, peak oil), then any meaningful discussion must include a cooperative China.

A "with us or against us" mentality served no useful purpose during the past eight years. This is not to say that I want a strategy of appeasement, or that pressure should not be exerted when possible. But we cannot base our entire China policy on Tibet, and I support Sec. Clinton's perspective.

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