It’s hard not to feel let down by the US-China Human Rights Dialogue which took place at the end of last week. As many others have already pointed out, China doesn’t really take it seriously. After all, they sent Chen Xu, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for International Organizations. When you Google him, the Chen Xu in question doesn’t even come up on the first page of search results. And as Sophie Richardson pointed out in her post for Foreign Policy, the “Chinese officials spend their visit just trying to run out the clock.” But as the previous eight years have taught us, a minor human rights dialogue is better than no dialogue at all.
The focus of the discussion was primarily around rule of law in China, undoubtedly a critical piece in the drive towards encouraging China to be a more responsible international stakeholder. Ideally, these talks have set the scene for the continuation of the conversation in the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) taking place in China on May 24-25, but you can’t help but feel that the timing of the Human Rights Dialogue provides a convenient out for human rights to be sidelined during the S&ED. When I read the State Department briefing on the S&ED this morning, there was no mention of human rights, and no indication that human rights issues will be raised at the meeting. As Elizabeth Lynch of China Law & Policy has written, the Chinese government places much more importance on the S&ED, and human rights issues raised there, on Chinese soil, are likely to have much more of an actual impact.
As the years go by, it makes less and less sense to separate the two dialogues anyway. Specifically,
-On cybersecurity: The US is just now waking up to the issue of cybersecurity. There is good evidence to suggest that while China may not be engaging in direct state-sponsored hacking of foreign corporations, government networks, and human rights activists’ emails, there is at the very least tacit approval (dare I say encouragement?) of the practice. Those hacking the Chinese government are punished. Those hacking foreign governments are smiled upon. Almost every single day I walk into the office to find emails in my inbox containing tracking software or malware intended to shut down my ability to do work. My boss, Harry Wu, receives at least five such threats each day. In the larger scheme of things, we’re the little people who are unimportant in these sorts of dialogues, but multinational corporations, many of whom are headquartered in the US, are facing similar difficulties. It costs American businesses a huge amount of money and time to fight these threats. Not to mention that it would be pretty catastrophic if Chinese hackers did something like shut down a major electrical grid or something like that, which they have been shown to be capable of doing. (Read more after the jump)