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Giving Up on Human Rights in China and Beyond

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
February 8, 2010


Since taking office, the Obama administration has followed a much quieter approach to human-rights advocacy than its predecessors. From its engagement with the brutal Burmese junta to its initial silence over the protests in Iran, the administration has suggested this topic is best broached behind closed doors--or not at all. In this, Washington is hardly unique. Owing to a range of factors, from the global recession to the rise of China, the age of global human-rights advocacy has collapsed, giving way to an era of realism unseen since the days of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon.

The signs of this shift are everywhere. Europe recently handed the chairmanship of one of the continent's major human-rights organizations to Kazakhstan, a country accused of arbitrary arrest and torture. The Australian government, once known for stinging critiques of repressive regimes, now studiously avoids criticizing China, even for the arrest of an Australian mining executive on what many consider trumped-up charges. France's Nicolas Sarkozy recently offered a state welcome to a coup leader from Mauritania.

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