Opinion Brief

Can Obama force China to improve its human-rights record?

Obama urged Chinese leader Hu Jintao to make progress on human rights — but should the president be throwing his weight around to effect real change?

President Obama on Wednesday pressed Chinese President Hu Jintao to improve his country's record on human rights, saying that China should live up to values enshrined in the Chinese Constitution. Hu emerged from the meeting declaring that his country has made progress, while admitting that "a lot still needs to be done" — a rare concession. Could Obama do more to get China's communist regime to respect basic, universal freedoms? (Watch Obama's mixed welcome)

Obama should be more forceful: President Obama has bent over backwards to avoid offending Chinese leaders, says Ellen Bork in The Weekly Standard, most shamefully by failing to meet with dissidents when he visited China last year. His "determination to avoid using the weight and prestige of his office to support democratic opponents of authoritarian regimes in China, Iran, Belarus, and elsewhere" is "dispiriting." It tells tyrants they can abuse their citizens with impunity, and sets back the cause of democracy all over the world.
"Why Liu matters, and Hu doesn't"

Pushing too hard could backfire: Obama had to bring up human rights, says Leslie H. Gelb in Newsweek, to "to show that his administration, contrary to some doubters, actually cares about these issues." But Obama didn't take a riskier hard-line approach "because, in the end, Beijing would have mostly ignored the threats and the American side knew this well." Restoring "America's credibility for being tough and serious" gives us greater leverage, but pressing harder would only cause a rift with China, and that won't do anyone any good.
"The stalemate summit"

China will change on its own timetable: "Ultimately, no one will tame China," says Marco Vincenzino in The Hill. "It must tame itself." But that doesn't mean the U.S. and other countries should "stand by idly." President Obama must walk a fine line: He should avoid animosity and confrontation but "firmly stand his ground when engaging China." Anything less will "only embolden the Chinese to defy and strong-arm others," making "the Asia-Pacific region, and wider world, a less safe place."
"It's time to stand up to China"

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