China: Balancing Interests

Like it or not, human rights is only at the top of the agenda for countries that otherwise don't much matter.

Last night, I awarded Tweet of the Day honors to @pcam‘s quip,  “The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner holds a State Dinner for a man who has the 2010 winner under House Arrest.”

This morning, I reflect on this at great length in a New Atlanticist post titled “China’s Seat At The Big Table.”  It defies excerpting, so I’ll direct you there.   But I’ll give you the bottom line here:

It’s quite possible that Hu understands that greater freedom for his people will be necessary, not only for China to fully assume its rightful place as a leader in the community of nations, but to sustain its economic momentum.  China will either remain cut off from the world in order to prop up the regime or it will be a full participant in the Information Age.  Hu surely knows that.

In the meantime, however, the leaders of the world’s two largest economies will continue to work together to seek mutual advantage.  Like it or not, human rights is only at the top of the agenda for countries that otherwise don’t much matter.   We manage to put these concerns aside when dealing with oil-rich emirates, after all.  Surely we can do it with the second most powerful country on the planet.

Bonus: We get to keep the pandas five more years.

Photo: Reuters

FILED UNDER: Asia, World Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. jfoobar says:

    I have been reading the heavy harping about “human rights” in conjunction with Hu Jintao’s visit as a pretty shallow effort to maintain cultural self-esteem in the face of a nation that, by many accounts and perceptions, seems to be kicking our economic butts as of late.

    “Oh yeah?!? Well….uh…at least we don’t persecute Christians!”

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    We’re kicking our own butts, jfoobar. Don’t worry about the Chinese. They have enough problems of their own, as will become much more apparent in due time.

  3. Dave Schuler says:


    Obviously, pressing China on human rights is consistent with our values and we should do so with more vigor. However, we might want to press them a little harder on living up to the obligations they’ve already undertaken when they were admitted to the WTO. These include greater transparency in their financial system, more foreign ownership of Chinese banks, honoring intellectual property rights, not subsidizing exports, and dozens of others.

  4. James Joyner says:


    Yes, agreed. And I gather we’ve been doing quite a bit of pressuring on the economic citizenship front, too. But they’re clearly going to move on their own timetable.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    The first priority is to get China to respect intellectual property rights. So that I can sell books there. Tens of millions of books. Mmmmm. Smell the money.