5 Actions the U.S. Should Take in Upcoming Dialogue with China

The upcoming U.S.-China dialogue in Washington must address the effects of growing political repression in China on the core interests of both countries. 

Next week, the U.S. secretaries of state and the treasury will meet with their Chinese counterparts for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), a formal discussion of bilateral and global issues that are of vital importance to both countries.

Growing censorship and other restrictions on human rights in China under President Xi Jinping have directly affected the strategic and economic interests that underpin the relationship between Beijing and Washington. To ensure that the upcoming discussion addresses these issues, U.S. officials participating in the dialogue should take the following actions:

1.  Fully incorporate human rights issues into every session of the S&ED.
Human rights violations in China have had a clear impact on U.S. interests. American companies are unfairly denied access to Chinese markets, accurate information about China is harder to come by as journalists are barred from working in the country, authors are forced to self-censor in order to publish, and American universities in China struggle to maintain their academic freedom. Lack of transparency and accountability in the Chinese government has contributed to problems like corruption, pollution, threats to food safety, intellectual property violations, and cyberattacks, all of which affect American citizens. No meaningful dialogue can ignore or downplay these issues.

2.  Request that the Chinese government renew access to blocked web services operated by U.S. companies.
Gmail, Flickr, and Instagram were among those blocked without explanation over the past year. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have been blocked for many years. Such arbitrary censorship is not only a violation of the Chinese constitution’s guarantee of free speech, but also constitutes inappropriate market interference that unfairly penalizes American companies and protects Chinese rivals from competition.

3.  Request that the Chinese government abandon or amend the draft Overseas NGO Management Law, PRC National Security Law, and Counterterrorism Law.
These proposed laws, currently pending before the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, could have devastating effects on American businesses, nongovernmental organizations, universities, professors, religious organizations, trade associations, and even online commentary. They are a direct threat to U.S. interests, and their passage would have broad implications for bilateral relations between the United States and China.

4.  Request that the Chinese government grant visas and access to U.S. journalists without discrimination.
In addition to restricting reporters’ access to sensitive locations like Tibet and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, the Chinese government has increasingly delayed or rejected visas for journalists with a record of hard-hitting investigative reporting, especially on human rights or high-level corruption. Correspondents for U.S.-based media outlets serve as the eyes and ears of all Americans in one of the world’s most important countries. Their reporting covers the gamut of strategic, economic, technological, and political topics on the agenda of the upcoming dialogue.

5.  Raise the cases of Chinese political and religious prisoners, including political reform advocate and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, prominent Uighur economist Ilham Tohti, Tibetan Buddhist leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, veteran journalist Gao Yu, human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, and house church pastor Yang Rongli. Past experience has demonstrated that when U.S. officials raise the cases of individual prisoners, it can result in improved treatment or, in some cases, release from custody. A key feature of the Chinese government’s current crackdown on civil society has been the diversity of the targeted individuals across various professions and religious affiliations. Many of their cases touch directly on policy areas under discussion at the S&ED. Just as importantly, they represent the conscience of the Chinese people, and a long-term bilateral relationship built on trust and shared values cannot take root so long as such people remain behind bars.