The United States and China resumed a bilateral human rights dialogue following the upheaval in Tibet in May 2008 and in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. The resumption marked an about-face for the Bush administration, which had halted the talks in December 2002 because it regarded them as ineffective. The Obama administration should push for continuation of the dialogue on a regular basis but also establish benchmarks for success and reevaluate the effectiveness of the dialogue at regular intervals so that China cannot use the process to “run out the clock” on meaningful human rights change.
The United States also should invite meaningful input from non-governmental organizations into the dialogue process, and should not allow the preservation of the dialogue to preclude public criticism of China’s human rights record. In addition, the United States should coordinate its approach with its allies, especially (but not exclusively) the European Union, which has been engaged in its own humans rights dialogue with China for more than 10 years. Washington should explore with its allies the resurrection of the so-called Bern Process or something like it in order to help “re-globalize” the approach to human rights in China.
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