Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on telegram
Share on whatsapp
Share on linkedin
Share on print
Share on email

Human Rights: Trump’s Trump Card Against China and North Korea

◎ Like Reagan with the Soviet Union, Trump should launch a moral offensive against China and North Korea that will reap enormous strategic benefits as well.

By Joseph Bosco

To the surprise of many, President Donald Trump met in the Oval Office last week with a group of foreign victims of religious persecution.

Four of the 27 participants were from China: a Uighur Muslim, a Falun Gong practitioner, a Tibetan Buddhist and a Christian. Others were from North Korea and other countries with close China relations. A couple were from Western nations.

The meeting was held in connection with the administration’s religious freedom conference that featured addresses by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that this president is not interested in human rights issues, this was far from the first time he has hosted victims of official mistreatment.

In January 2018, he welcomed to the White House a group of North Korean defectors who recounted in graphic detail the abuse they had suffered at the hands of the Kim regimes. That meeting followed Trump’s State of the Union address directing the world’s attention to the plight of a disabled North Korean escapee and recounting the horrors of life under the communist regime.

Months before, he had given separate speeches at the United Nations General Assembly and at South Korea’s National Assembly, again describing in some detail the numerous crimes against humanity perpetrated by the government in Pyongyang and explicitly questioning its legitimacy to rule.

As president-elect, Trump accepted a congratulatory telephone call from President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan. Since 24 million Taiwanese are under constant and growing threat from Beijing to lose their democratic rights, that president-to-president conversation also qualifies as a human rights commitment.

Cynics will argue that the U.S. president makes these gestures to human rights simply to gain leverage over North Korea and China. And, in the case of Kim Jong Un, the president’s declaratory indictment of his despotic governance did appear to be an important component of the maximum pressure campaign to persuade the regime to give up its nuclear weapons program. (The other elements were economic sanctions and the credible use of force.)

But, even if the skeptics are right and the president is acting not out of deeply-felt compassion or high-minded idealism, but for hard-headed strategic reasons, that in itself is a good thing — both for the human rights victims and for the U.S. negotiating position on trade and other issues.

In fact, given the deep vulnerability of both the Chinese and North Korean regimes to popular unrest, the lesson for not only the Trump administration but other Western governments is that emphasis on human rights is both a moral and strategic imperative.

The Soviet Union collapsed for a number of reasons, not the least of which was its moral bankruptcy before its oppressed populations, aided by an information campaign from the West.

Human rights heroes such as Czech statesman Vaclav Havel, Israeli human rights activist Natan Sharansky and Poland’s labor activist Lech Walesa all told of how messages of support from Ronald Reagan and others, transmitted by the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, sustained their morale and encouraged their perseverance throughout their ordeals.

A well-planned, aggressive and consistent messaging campaign of truth-telling from VOA and Radio Free Asia can provide spiritual uplift for the more than a billion people enduring crushed lives in China and North Korea.

Those regimes already spend as much or more on internal security as they do in preparing to deal with external “aggressors” — or, more likely, external victims of their own aggression.

This kind of informational pressure would be a non-kinetic way of diverting the two tyrannies’ resources from dangerous external adventures. At the same time, they would be incentivized to improve the lot of their populations and to make concessions in other areas of confrontation with the West.

The cumulative effects of incremental Chinese and North Korean concessions would advance the cause of democratic change in both systems. As Xi Jinping and his colleagues are fond of telling Western governments when offering deals, it would be a win-win proposition.

Like Reagan with the Soviet Union, Trump should launch a moral offensive against China and North Korea that will reap enormous strategic benefits as well.

First published in The Hill.

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He is a nonresident fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and the Institute for Taiwan-American Studies, and has held nonresident appointments in the Asia-Pacific program at the Atlantic Council and the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of SinoInsider. 

Search past entries by date
“The breadth of SinoInsider’s insights—from economics through the military to governance, all underpinned by unparalleled reporting on the people in charge—is stunning. In my over fifty years of in-depth reading on the PRC, unclassified and classified, SinoInsider is in a class all by itself.”
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Unique insights are available frequently from the reports of Sinoinsider.”
Michael Pillsbury, Senior Fellow for China Strategy, The Heritage Foundation
“Thank you for your information and analysis. Very useful.”
Prof. Ravni Thakur, University of Delhi, India
“SinoInsider’s research has helped me with investing in or getting out of Chinese companies.”
Charles Nelson, Managing Director, Murdock Capital Partners
“I value SinoInsider because of its always brilliant articles touching on, to name just a few, CCP history, current trends, and factional politics. Its concise and incisive analysis — absent the cliches that dominate China policy discussions in DC and U.S. corporate boardrooms — also represents a major contribution to the history of our era by clearly defining the threat the CCP poses to American peace and prosperity and global stability. I am grateful to SinoInsider — long may it thrive!”
Lee Smith, Author and journalist
“Your publication insights tremendously help us complete our regular analysis on in-depth issues of major importance. ”
Ms. Nicoleta Buracinschi, Embassy of Romania to the People’s Republic of China
"I’m a very happy, satisfied subscriber to your service and all the deep information it provides to increase our understanding. SinoInsider is profoundly helping to alter the public landscape when it comes to the PRC."
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Prof. Ming’s information about the Sino-U.S. trade war is invaluable for us in Taiwan’s technology industry. Our company basically acted on Prof. Ming’s predictions and enlarged our scale and enriched our product lines. That allowed us to deal capably with larger orders from China in 2019. ”
Mr. Chiu, Realtek R&D Center
“I am following China’s growing involvement in the Middle East, seeking to gain a better understanding of China itself and the impact of domestic constraints on its foreign policy. I have found SinoInsider quite helpful in expanding my knowledge and enriching my understanding of the issues at stake.”
Ehud Yaari, Lafer International Fellow, The Washington Institute
“SinoInsider’s research on the CCP examines every detail in great depth and is a very valuable reference. Foreign researchers will find SinoInsider’s research helpful in understanding what is really going on with the CCP and China. ”
Baterdene, Researcher, The National Institute for Security Studies (Mongolian)
“The forecasts of Prof. Chu-cheng Ming and the SinoInsider team are an invaluable resource in guiding our news reporting direction and anticipating the next moves of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.”
Chan Miu-ling, Radio Television Hong Kong China Team Deputy Leader
“SinoInsider always publishes interesting and provocative work on Chinese elite politics. It is very worthwhile to follow the work of SinoInsider to get their take on factional struggles in particular.”
Lee Jones, Reader in International Politics, Queen Mary University of London
“[SinoInsider has] been very useful in my class on American foreign policy because it contradicts the widely accepted argument that the U.S. should work cooperatively with China. And the whole point of the course is to expose students to conflicting approaches to contemporary major problems.”
Roy Licklider, Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Columbia University
“As a China-based journalist, SinoInsider is to me a very reliable source of information to understand deeply how the CCP works and learn more about the factional struggle and challenges that Xi Jinping may face. ”
Sebastien Ricci, AFP correspondent for China & Mongolia
“SinoInsider offers an interesting perspective on the Sino-U.S. trade war and North Korea. Their predictions are often accurate, which is definitely very helpful.”
Sebastien Ricci, AFP correspondent for China & Mongolia
“I have found SinoInsider to provide much greater depth and breadth of coverage with regard to developments in China. The subtlety of the descriptions of China's policy/political processes is absent from traditional media channels.”
John Lipsky, Peter G. Peterson Distinguished Scholar, Kissinger Center for Global Affairs
“My teaching at Cambridge and policy analysis for the UK audience have been informed by insights from your analyzes. ”
Dr Kun-Chin Lin, University Lecturer in Politics,
Deputy Director of the Centre for Geopolitics, Cambridge University
" SinoInsider's in-depth and nuanced analysis of Party dynamics is an excellent template to train future Sinologists with a clear understanding that what happens in the Party matters."
Stephen Nagy, Senior Associate Professor, International Christian University
“ I find Sinoinsider particularly helpful in instructing students about the complexities of Chinese politics and what elite competition means for the future of the US-China relationship.”
Howard Sanborn, Professor, Virginia Military Institute
“SinoInsider has been one of my most useful (and enjoyable) resources”
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Professor Ming and his team’s analyses of current affairs are very far-sighted and directionally accurate. In the present media environment where it is harder to distinguish between real and fake information, SinoInsider’s professional perspectives are much needed to make sense of a perilous and unpredictable world. ”
Liu Cheng-chuan, Professor Emeritus, National Chiayi University