The annual release of a report on human rights by the U.S. State Department is mandated by law, and the Bush administration is hardly the first to face uncomfortable questions about its qualifications to judge such issues. As usual, this year's report reviews progress and pitfalls around the world—not including the United States—and highlights major offenders. But senior officials acknowledged the report also comes at a time when Washington's own adherence to human rights principles is under fire.
Each spring for the past twenty-six years, the United States and Thailand have held joint military exercises known as Cobra Gold. But this May’s exercises in Thailand come during an unusual shaky patch in the longtime U.S.-Thai alliance. The Thai military overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in September 2006, pledging to hold democratic elections by December this year. Following the coup, Washington suspended $24 million in military aid and halted negotiations on a free trade agreement.
Dan Southerland, executive editor at Radio Free Asia, discusses whether Chinese bloggers can push for more open media in China by getting around censors to break news. He cites a recent story, which made international headlines and was initially covered by bloggers, about a woman in southern China who resisted government siezure of her property. Southerland concedes that most of China's roughly 60 million bloggers write about personal matters and, when covering news, often fail to include essential details about where or when an event took place. However, he says, “If everybody suddenly decided that they would stop censoring themselves I think they could easily overwhelm the government” and could “get a little beyond the superficiality” of state-run media. Southerland also discusses “online muckrakers” who uncover stories about local government corruption and push news past monitors by praising the central government.
An Indo-Pakistani peace process continues to move forward two months after the deadly bombing on the “Friendship Express” train between New Delhi and Lahore. Shortly after that attack, linked to Kashmiri militant groups (Hindustan Times), India and Pakistan signed an agreement to reduce the risk of accidental nuclear attacks. More recently, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri indicated on April 20 that the two countries are close to reaching agreement (The Nation) on the decades-old dispute over India-controlled Kashmir. Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf says relations between the two countries “have never been better” (Hindu).
Ahead of his arrival in Washington, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hailed the U.S.-Japanese alliance as “indispensable” (WashPost). But relations between Tokyo and Washington have shown signs of a chill since Abe came to power in the fall of 2006. Abe lacks the personal connection his charismatic predecessor Junichiro Koizumi had with President Bush, and the two countries appear out of sync in pressuring North Korea to acknowledge responsibility for the kidnapping of Japanese citizens (Reuters) two decades ago. Vice President Dick Cheney said the relationship “has never been stronger” during his February visit to Tokyo. But weeks before Cheney’s arrival, Japanese officials criticized the Bush administration’s Iraq policy (FT), with Taro Aso, the foreign minister, going so far as to call it “naïve.” The alliance was further tested by Abe’s comments denying evidence of Japanese military participation in the sexual enslavement of some 200,000 “comfort women.”
North Korea failed to meet its weekend deadline to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, although South Korea officials say activities detected near the reactor may indicate Pyongyong intends to close down Yongbyon (AP). U.S. officials said they will give Pyongyang a few more days to meet its end of a tentative denuclearization deal, signed two months ago by Six-Party Talk members. That agreement set an April 14 deadline for North Korea to shut down the main reactor at its facility at Yongbyon. At stake are millions of dollars in energy and humanitarian aid, not to mention progress toward denuclearization and renewed inspections. A dispute over $25 million in frozen North Korean funds in a Macao bank imperils the deal.
Washington’s decision to eschew soft diplomacy with China for a more assertive stance on economic relations appeared to threaten U.S.-Chinese relations. On April 9, the United States sued China (NPR) in the World Trade Organization (WTO) court over Beijing’s failure to address intellectual property rights and open its market to American DVDs, books, and movies. China’s Ministry of Commerce responded, saying the U.S. complaints would “seriously damage” (FT) bilateral ties.
A new CFR Task Force Report on U.S.-Chinese relations recommends an “affirmative agenda of integrating China into the global community” with a view toward involving Beijing in discussions on security, trade, human rights, and China’s growing military power. Carla A. Hills, CFR’s vice chairman and co-chair of the China Task Force, says the report’s recommendations seek to address “political resistance at home that emanates from worries about China’s rapid growth in the last two decades.” Hills, who served as the U.S. trade representative during the administration of George H.W. Bush, says creating “habits of cooperation” will serve as a means for China to adopt “international norms.”
Throughout the 1990s, strategic concerns over long-running conflicts in East Asia—from the division of the Korean peninsula to tensions across the Taiwan Strait to the Indian-Pakistan nuclear competition—shaped U.S. policy in the region. Although the Sino-Soviet rift during the Cold War provided a basis for U.S. relations with communist Beijing, post-Soviet Russia developed a growing military and diplomatic partnership with China, which also began building security and economic agreements with its neighbors in Southeast Asia. Since 9/11, U.S. attentions have turned toward the Middle East and counterterrorism efforts. “One of the major casualties of the war on terror has been a strategic policy toward Asia,” says Donald C. Hellmann, director of the Institute for International Policy at the University of Washington. Meanwhile, China bloomed as a major trading partner and diplomatic power in the region, in some cases displacing the United States economically. India, too, emerged as an economic force, and tensions flared on the Korean peninsula over Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test.
Since the 1949 Communist victory in China, U.S.-Sino relations have wavered between tense standoffs and attempts to bridge strategic and ideological differences. This CFR.org Timeline offers a visual account of U.S. Relations with Communist China.
Served as writer.
Manjeet Kripalani, CFR press fellow and India bureau chief for BusinessWeek, discusses the increasing social unrest in Pakistan caused by President Pervez Musharraf's decision to suspend Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry. She says the crisis could leave the president's political future "extremely uncertain.
A few weeks after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf suspended Iftikar Chaudhry, Pakistan’s chief justice, demonstrations boil on around the country. Protesters accuse the president of violating the constitution (al-Jazeera) in order to silence the judge who questioned his authority, though Gen. Musharraf denies (Rediff) the claims, saying “there is a conspiracy against me”. At the same time, the Supreme Court demanded (Reuters) the government provide information about some four hundred people who’ve vanished into police custody since Pakistan allied itself with the United States in 2001. CFR Fellow Manjeet Kripalani discusses Pakistan’s domestic unrest in this new podcast.
Social protests in China no longer startle. Hundreds and even thousands regularly gather to rail against local corruption, land expropriation, environmental degradation, or unpaid wages, often prompting harsh police crackdowns. In recent days, police teargassed protesters (Radio Australia) when the crowd blocked train lines in eastern China to protest redistricting they fear may threaten their social benefits. The unrest has not escaped Communist Party notice: An official newspaper advised local authorities to restrain (AP) from using force in protests that serve as a “collective appeal for help from violations of the law.” CFR Fellow Carl Minzner says in a new podcast that China lacks institutional means to address grievances at the local level, so protesters mount large-scale demonstrations to petition the central government for assistance.
Even as a path is cleared to meet the requirements of the North Korean denuclearization agreement reached in February, another round of Six-Party Talks has stalled. The February deal, which requires Pyongyang to shut down its main nuclear reactor within sixty days in exchange for fuel oil, involves a series of bilateral talks, including U.S.-North Korea negotiations aimed at normalizing relations. On March 14, Washington broke through on one of the biggest obstacles in its relations with Pyongyang with a decision that allows the release of $25 million (LAT) in North Korean funds from a Macao-based bank.
As the Beijing Olympics draw near, the world is bracing for what promises to be a historic event. China has promoted the games as an international coming-out party under the slogan, "One World, One Dream." Even the opening date is auspicious: August 8, 2008—8-8-08—is a very lucky day in Chinese numerology. Since Beijing won its bid to host the games, however, critics have attacked China's record on issues ranging from human rights to food safety to the environment. Just before the Olympic torch relay, China cracked down on Tibetans protesting the subjugation of their culture. The repression and violence that ensued brought international condemnation and calls for Olympic boycotts. China's environmental degradation, restrictions on free speech, and continued investments in Sudan, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe have drawn criticism as well. In its campaign to win the right to host the Olympics, China pledged to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the games would remain "open in every aspect." Many believe China is failing to abide by that pledge, but the vehemence of anti-China sentiment abroad has spurred a nationalist backlash within China, and the Chinese government strongly condemns what it considers the politicization of the Olympic Games.
Co-authored by Preeti Bhattacharjee and Carin Zissis
CFR International Affairs Fellow Carl Minzner, an expert on Chinese domestic issues and former senior counsel at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, discusses the increase in social unrest in China. He says that in China, a country under one party rule lacking institutional means to address grievances at the local level, "central leaders don't necessarily know what's going on until ten thousand local farmers make it out of a particular area and mount a collective protest."
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's decision to suspend the country's chief justice poses a potential crisis for a leader torn between domestic and international pressures. Musharraf indefinitely removed Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry (IHT) from office for abuse of power, but opponents claim the move was aimed at silencing an outspoken judge before a series of election-year cases challenging the president's authority. Appointed by Musharraf in 2005, Chaudhry increasingly strayed from the government line in human rights cases. Hundreds of lawyers protested Chaudhry’s suspension in front of Islamabad's Supreme Court over what they say is an unconstitutional suspension, and several judges have resigned (BBC). In an unlikely alliance, members of Pakistan's conservative Islamist coalition joined the secular opposition in demonstrations, leading to the arrest of the coalition's leader. As protests broke out (Times of London) in other cities, Musharraf's presidential predecessor Rafiq Tarar was arrested at a Lahore rally.
Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe drew international reproach recently for disputing that his country's military coerced young women into sexual enslavement during Japan's occupation of China and the Korean peninsula. The controversy also raised questions about the importance of saying sorry, a gesture that can smooth diplomatic waters but can also open the door to claims for legal compensation. Abe's remarks came shortly after U.S. Rep. Michael M. Honda (D-CA) proposed a bill in January demanding that Tokyo apologize and accept “historical responsibility” for the Japanese military's role in the abuse of “comfort women.” That is the term for the roughly 200,000 mostly Korean and Chinese women pressed into providing sex to Japanese soldiers during wartime.
As the United States hosted North Korea for talks about normalizing a tempestuous relationship, questions swirled around Washington’s suddenly softer approach to Pyongyang. After years of refusing bilateral talks with the Hermit Kingdom—one of the three members of the “Axis of Evil”—the Bush administration switched tactics. Christopher Hill, the State Department’s senior diplomat for East Asian affairs, sat down in New York this week for direct negotiations with Kim Kye-Gwan to hammer out next steps on an agreement reached during February Six-Party Talks. Under the pact, North Korea will receive fuel oil, economic assistance, and humanitarian aid in return for shutting down and sealing its nuclear facilities within sixty days.