“Shameless”: Hillary Clinton, Human Rights and China

Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton has shown that she can be no less hypocritical than the republican candidate field on foreign policy matters when it comes to China. In a tweet meant to arouse popular feelings of solidarity with women’s rights, former Secretary of State Clinton criticised the leader of the world’s second largest economy as “shameless” for promoting women’s rights. In case you missed it, yes that was “shameless” for promoting women’s rights.

At the UN summit on women’s rights, organized by China and U.N. Women, China President Xi Jinping announced that he would pledge to build 100 new schools for girls, up to 100 new health clinics, and would offer travel to China for up to 30,000 women from developing countries to receive training and skills. The apparent ire of the Clinton campaign was instead focused upon the defence of five Chinese feminists facing criminal charges in Beijing for inciting public unrest.

Campaign points for tough rhetoric on China have become a staple of presidential campaigning over the years. In 2012, Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney staked part of his foreign policy credentials on the claim to make China pay, “on day one”, by labelling it a currency manipulator. 2015 republican presidential candidate and billionaire Donald Trump has similarly called on the president “hold China accountable” for China’s economic instability. According to Governor of New Jersey and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christi, America’s federal debt can be blamed “in large measure” on the Chinese. Carly Fiorina claimed in contrast that most of America’s intellectual property rights woes can be blamed on “unimaginative” Chinese, who cannot “innovate”.

Xi’s visit to the United States has provided a platform for candidates to show “backbone” according to former Republican candidate Scott Walker on how to deal with China. Clinton’s “shameless” grab for the spotlight however has highlighted serious hypocritical tones as certain criticisms on human rights appear to be missing from the dialogue.
Ostensibly, there has been no mention by the Clinton camp on the controversial decision by the UN to elect Saudi Arabia to be the Chair on the UN Human Rights Council. Executive Director of UN Watch Hillel Neuer remarked that Saudi Arabia had “arguably the worst record in the world when it comes to … women’s rights”. The Saudi appointment Neuer remarked was “scandalous”. Coincidentally on the day UN documents were released detailing delegate Chairs, Clinton posted a tweet underscoring the need to combat “violence against women in South Carolina”. No mention of the Saudi posting by Clinton was acknowledged.

This should be somewhat surprising given the prominence of human and women’s rights in the Clinton campaign. But when it comes to relationships with states such as Saudi Arabia, the rhetoric on human rights abuses in Clinton Inc.’s agenda recedes. Saudi Arabia has long been a serious violator of such rights. Both China and Saudi Arabia appear at the bottom and human rights index on the Human Rights Watch website, but in terms of woman’s rights generally Saudi Arabia leads the bottom of the list. In July this year, prominent women’s rights activists Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni were each handed a 10 month prison sentence and travel bans for up to two years all for attempting to assist a women from domestic abuse. Women in Saudi Arabia are subjected to harsh Sharia laws which enforce strict segregation, it supports harassment of women and uses physical punishment to entrench upon women conservative standards of behavior and dress.

While moving off the topic of women’s rights, Human Rights in general had fallen in recent years in Saudi Arabia, even as the rest of the world moves on to new global standards. As Clinton’s campaign continues on its cherry picking issue way, Saudi man Ali al-Nimr awaits execution by beheading for participating in protests four years ago when he was then a minor. Another Saudi Raif Badawi also awaits the punishment of 1000 lashes for apparently insulting Islam on his blog. Saudi Arabia is one of only three countries in the world that still executes anyone for offences committed as minor (the two other countries being Sudan and Iran).

Clinton is right to criticise Beijing’s human rights record in so far as it applies to a universal standard. But as a former Secretary of State and presidential hopeful, calling the leader of a nation that also happens to be the most important bilateral relationship for America “shameless” is not tactful. Cheap points in the short-run will not equal smart points in the long run.

A more mature appraisal of China’s role in the Asia-Pacific is needed in both rhetoric and debate. Beijing’s island reclamation efforts in the South China Seas will be an issue the next President will need to deal with decisively. Criticism of China’s forceful tactics in the region would offer a more even-handed sound-bite, if that is the objective. Picking an issue for which China has attempted to champion, not to mention throw hundreds of millions of dollars at, is however a clumsy exercise in bungling rhetoric. Particularly when certain international ‘friends’ of America continues to champion one of the world’s worst human rights records.


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Adam Bartley is a Researcher and PhD candidate at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bartley.aa@gmail.com

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