Harold Hongju Koh
Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
U.S. Department of State
Testimony Before the House Committee on International Relations,
Washington, DC, January 20, 1999
Human Rights in China
Chairman Gilman, Members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to appear today. I have already had the privilege of meeting with several of you, and I look forward to meeting individually with all of you. I know of the commitment that Members of this Committee have demonstrated toward human rights concerns, particularly in China. Your support has been bipartisan and I look forward to working together to address the challenges we shall face over the next few years. I am especially pleased that this, my first official testimony before the House International Relations Committee, provides me with an opportunity to discuss the integral role that human rights play in the U.S.-China relationship.
Mr. Chairman, our China policy is multifaceted and encompasses a wide range of issues, including both human rights concerns and strategic issues. Accompanying me today to the hearing is Susan Shirk, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Before I turn to the subject of today's hearing -- human rights in China -- I would like to ask her to provide a brief overview of the U.S.-China relationship.
Mr. Chairman, promoting increased respect for human rights is one of our highest priorities for China. As Deputy Assistant Secretary Shirk has explained, our human rights policy rests on the premise, as the President said last night, that "Stability can no longer be bought at the expense of liberty ... The more we bring China into the world, the more we bring change and freedom into China." Our objective is to facilitate systemic changes that will vastly expand the freedom of all Chinese citizens, by persistently pursuing multiple avenues of change within the context of a broad, multi-faceted relationship that addresses human rights and other policy objectives.
For someone who cares deeply about human rights, recent developments in China have been, frankly, deeply discouraging. We have deplored in the strongest terms the recent arrests, trials, and sentencing of Chinese activists who have led efforts to establish an opposition political party. We have criticized press censorship and other efforts to prevent freedom of expression and religious freedom in China. Last week, I held a human rights dialogue with a delegation led by China's Assistant Foreign Minister, Wang Guangya, in which I raised and sought information about these and other human rights issues and cases that are of deep concern both to the Administration and to Members of Congress. I made clear that these recent developments are steps in the wrong direction. I told the Chinese delegation directly that these actions obstruct the development of our bilateral relationship and urged them to take immediate steps to repair the damage.
This difficult period reminds us that there is no quick fix to China's human rights problems. I believe that our long-term strategy of engagement will lead to positive, incremental changes that will produce systemic changes in China, if we persistently apply what I call an "outside-inside" human rights strategy. This approach involves promoting human rights by using our multiple avenues of influence to combine vigorous support for change from outside of China with vigorous support for internal reform within China.
In our external diplomacy with the Chinese, all U.S. officials -- from the President on down -- raise human rights concerns at meetings with top Chinese officials. We use every occasion to speak frankly and critically about political and religious persecution, the sale of human organs, forced labor, coercive family planning, and repression in Tibet, among other issues. As Secretary Albright made clear last week at a reception at the Chinese Embassy, we seek increased Chinese respect for rights that are universally recognized and fundamental to the freedom and dignity of every human being. We do not believe organized peaceful political expression is a crime or a threat.
In my discussions with the Chinese, I have repeatedly emphasized the importance of Chinese compliance with and implementation of international human rights standards. In October of 1998, China signed the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. We are urging early ratification and full implementation by the Chinese of those important international covenants, treaties whose spirit the Chinese have already agreed to respect.
My bureau also has statutory responsibility for preparing the annual country report on human rights conditions in China. That report, which will be released in late February, will evaluate China's progress in human rights in the last year under international human rights standards.
The upcoming annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva is another important multilateral mechanism for encouraging change in China. The Administration supports the Geneva process, and intends to participate vigorously in this year's Commission activities. Last year, our Government did not sponsor a resolution regarding China, but made clear that we were keeping our options open for the future. At this time, we are actively consulting both within the Administration and with our allies to promote human rights in China.
We support the continued access to China of groups and entities who can report on internal conditions, including the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, human rights nongovernmental organizations, and humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. Last year, Secretary Albright appointed my colleague Robert Seiple as Special Representative for International Religious Freedom. Mr. Seiple visited China just two weeks ago to emphasize the importance we attach to religious freedom, and to explain how the International Religious Freedom Act will be implemented. U.S. religious leaders have also visited China to deliver a similar message. Both the Special Representative and the religious leaders stressed U.S. concern about the fate of individuals detained for the expression of their religious beliefs as well as church registration requirements and other mechanisms that hinder freedom of religion in China.
Finally, in promoting these human rights initiatives, we enlist the support of our allies plus regional and global intergovernmental organizations, as well as the support of labor unions and the business community.
At the same time as the U.S. Government employs these external channels, it also has adopted multiple and varied initiatives to promote internal reform in China. Broadcasts by the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia bring vital information to Chinese citizens about developments at home and abroad. People-to-people diplomacy is contributing significantly to change in China from the inside. Private, non-governmental entities are contributing to facilitating change in China with U.S. Government funding.
We have also tried to encourage and facilitate legal reform in China. In December, for example, American and Chinese legal experts convened a symposium to discuss legal protection of human rights. USIA has furthered our goals in this area through Fulbright exchanges, judicial exchanges, and translations of legal texts into Chinese. The American Bar Association and private attorneys have expressed great interest in these efforts and are eager to participate in ongoing activities.
Yet another tool that we have used to promote increased respect for human rights in China is the human rights dialogue that I have just concluded with the Chinese Government. Last week's meetings marked the first human rights dialogue between the United States and China since January 1995. Official bilateral human rights talks between the two countries took place every year from 1991 until the Chinese Government terminated that dialogue four years ago. At the Clinton-Jiang Beijing summit last June, the two Presidents agreed to resume the bilateral dialogue, reasoning that "candid dialogue is an important element for resolving ... differences." It was in that spirit that 16 United States officials met with 12 Chinese government officials for two days last week. I have described that dialogue in some detail in the attached press statement, issued the day after the dialogue concluded. As you will see, official dialogue is both an "outside" and an "inside" tool, in which we seek to promote positive change in China's human rights situation through both pressure and persuasion.
Mr. Chairman, let me conclude by saying that as a newcomer to the government, I appreciate that words like "dialogue" are often read as diplomatic euphemisms for "joint speechmaking" or avoiding tough issues. Let me tell you that what transpired over the two days last week was dialogue as any normal person would understand it: intense and at times heated discussions in which the participants spoke bluntly, told one another things they did not want to hear, listened carefully, and advised one another on how they could and should do things differently. The atmosphere was frank and the comments candid.
As my discussion of our outside-inside approach should make clear, official dialogue on human rights is not the only tool to be employed in our effort to promote human rights in China. It is only one of many tools which we are applying. We also are keenly aware that the success of our dialogue will be measured not by China's words, but by its actions in the months and years ahead. For that reason, we will be watching China's actions closely and continuing to press the Chinese to adhere to the international human rights standards embodied in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights -- a covenant which they themselves have both signed and announced their intention to ratify.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee. I now stand ready to answer any questions you might have.
[end of document]
Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Affairs
Principal Officials' Remarks, Testimonies, and Briefings
Department of State | Secretary's Home Page
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW.
Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.