Jennifer Rubin is confused about what U.S. national interests are:
In other words, human rights and defense of our ally Taiwan “complicate” our relationship with China. If only we could just push aside our national interests [bold mine-DL], things would go swimmingly with the Chinese rulers.
This is as good an example as any of the annoying neoconservative habit of conflating “values” and interests and ignoring the trade-offs between them. For instance, the U.S. could give Chen Guangcheng asylum. By itself, that might not adversely affect U.S.-Chinese relations. It might be the right thing to do in this case. Because the State Department has been raising the Chen case with the Chinese government for some time, giving him asylum might even suit Beijing under the circumstances:
For Beijing, the issue is sensitive because Chen enjoys broad sympathy among the Chinese public for persevering in his activism despite being blind and despite repeated reprisals from local officials. And though Beijing dislikes bargaining with Washington over human rights, allowing Chen to go abroad would remove an irritant in relations with Washington. It would also prevent him from becoming a bargaining chip in an already bumpy transition of power under way from President Hu Jintao’s administration to a younger group of leaders.
However, if this became part of a pattern, it could increase tensions, make it more difficult to reach agreements on anything else, and impose costs on U.S. interests. If that is what Rubin prefers, she should explain why she thinks U.S. foreign policy should prioritize something other than securing U.S. interests abroad rather than pretending that jeopardizing them is the same thing as securing them.
Here is what Rubin would have the U.S. do in this case:
We should be framing the Chen situation this way: If China wants to have positive relations with the United States, it must not retaliate against Chen, his family and other dissidents; doing so risks negative consequences for the Chinese.
If Chinese cooperation on various issues is already lacking, making such threats would probably ensure that such cooperation becomes even harder to obtain. It’s also likely that the Chinese government would assume that the U.S. is bluffing if it were to declare that the U.S. is willing to penalize China over this and other related cases. As Raymond Sontag pointed out in his article on the Magnitsky bill, China has been exempted from Jackson-Vanik restrictions for over a decade because U.S. economic interests in China outweigh all other concerns:
Congress lifted all Jackson-Vanik restrictions on trade with China before it joined the WTO in 2001 and did not find it necessary to replace them with other measures to ensure that Beijing observed human rights. Obviously, this was not because there were no concerns over how China treats its citizens, but because economic relations with China were simply too important to make them hostage to human rights concerns. The volume of U.S. trade with China is about 16 times larger than U.S. trade with Russia and China’s U.S. Treasury securities holdings are nearly ten times larger than Russia’s. When one weighs China’s and Russia’s human rights records against their relative importance to the U.S. economy, it is hard not to conclude that Congress is ready to push for human rights abroad only when no real interests are at stake.
Throughout her post, Rubin keeps claiming that U.S. interests are being “subordinated” or “sacrificed” in relations with Russia and China. This isn’t true, and her own descriptions of what has been happening confirm it:
So we praise Vladimir Putin after the stolen presidential election. The administration opposes sanctions denying visas to Russian human rights abuses. And Chen is a “problem” — for us.
Never mind that fraud in the Russian presidential election doesn’t make it “stolen” or that the State Department is already sanctioning Russian officials believed to be involved in the Magnitsky case. Notice what all of these things have in common? None of them is remotely connected to U.S. interests. All of them have to do with domestic regime behavior. The reality is that U.S. interests are being prioritized in these relationships, and this displeases ideologues and activists here in the U.S. What they would like to see is a policy that requires the U.S. to subordinate and sacrifice American interests for the sake of telling other governments how to behave inside their own countries. They are free to do so, but it is absurd for them to pretend that they are putting the American interest first. They aren’t, and they find policies that do to be deeply offensive.