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Rubio Presses Obama Administration On Human Rights Approach To China

Jan 28, 2014 | Comunicados de Prensa

Rubio: “I hope that it is clear that we want a good relationship with China, but not at the expense of the fundamental human rights that define us as a nation and as a people.”

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, today sought clarity from the Obama Administration on how it prioritizes human rights and religious freedom as it relates to China.

During a confirmation hearing for U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), President Obama’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to China, Rubio asked Baucus whether the U.S. embassy and consulates in China would be “islands of freedom” for pro-democracy leaders. He also questioned Baucus on his willingness, should he be confirmed, to demonstrate his commitment to religious freedom by attending religious services of religions not officially recognized by the government.

A transcript of the full exchange can be found below.

Confirmation Hearing of U.S. Senator Max Baucus to be U.S. Ambassador to China
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
January 28, 2014

Senator Marco Rubio: “Congratulations. Your appointment comes at a pretty exciting time and place in terms of the issues that are going on in regards to China. Their growth and their economy and in their influence in the world is really an amazing development to watch from a historical perspective. And by the way, I would just share, as I did with you on the phone when we spoke about this, I don’t, and I think the President has said this, our policy isn’t to contain China. On the contrary, I think we see a growing economy that we can be trade partners with, a billion people we can sell our products and our services to.

“We look hopefully to a China that uses its increased influence and its military capabilities to be a partner in addressing some of the global issues that our world confronts. Just think about how much easier the issue of Iran and North Korea and Syria would be if China were engaged in a positive way in trying to influence the direction of that.

“But there’s also some real challenges, some of which have been highlighted here today. In particular, I think the Chinese use the term, ‘the new model of major country relations.’ And it seems that the way they at least define it right now, is that number one: The U.S. would basically begin to erode or abandon some of its regional commitments that it’s made to places like Japan, and the Philippines, and Taiwan and even South Korea to some extent. And the other is something you’ll hear them often say, in fact, I think at Davos, Senator McCain was asked this question by someone in the audience: Why is the U.S. always interfering in the internal affairs of other countries? And when it comes to China, that usually is this issue of human rights.

“The late ambassador, Mark Palmer, in a book Breaking the Real Axis of Evil, he argued that U.S. ambassadors in places like China should be freedom fighters. And that U.S. embassies should be ‘islands of freedom open to all those who share the values of freedom, human rights and democracy.’ You’ve begun to answer that question here today. It was asked on some specific topics. But do you agree that the U.S. embassy in China should be an island of freedom, and that one of your primary jobs there would be demonstrating to China’s peaceful advocates of reform and democracy that the United States stands firmly with them?”

Senator Max Baucus: “Going to your earlier point. Senator, I read your speech in Korea. I thought it was very perceptive. It made points which I’d like to work on with you. Clearly the United States, symbolically, is an island of freedom. You asked to some degree, the specific question, should it physically? Should the embassy? That’s a question I’m going to have to take back to, and work with the administration on. I do not know the administration policy precisely on that point, but I will determine to find it. My basic principle is: you bet. We’re there to stand up for human rights and freedoms, generally, in the world. But in respect to your specific question, let me take that back.”

Rubio: “Well as you do take that issue back, I think you’ll find broad consensus on this committee and I hope in the administration, that our embassy should be viewed as an ally of those within Chinese society that are looking to express their fundamental rights to speak out and to worship freely, etc. On that point, the Chinese government has detained over a thousand unregistered Christians in the past year. They’ve closed, what they term, ‘illegal meeting points.’ They’ve prohibited public worship activities and additionally, by the way, unregistered – and this is amazing – unregstered Catholic clergy, unregistered with them. They remain in detention. Some have even disappeared. I would ask: Would you be open, if you’re confirmed, to attending a worship service in an unregistered Catholic or Protestant Church within China?”

Baucus: “Senator, I am going to do my very best to represent our country constructively, seriously, engaged, and listen in a way which I think is most effective. I will take actions which I hope accomplish that objective. And with respect to where I go and do not go, that’s a matter of judgement. And it’s one I’m going to be thinking about very carefully, about where I go and where I do not go. My goal here is to be effective. A major goal, as we discussed here today, is the protection of human rights. It’s probably the bedrock, fundamental goal because so much springs from that. And it’s a goal that I will espouse fully and use whatever way I can to accomplish that goal effectively. But let me not answer that directly because I don’t know the degree to which that makes sense at this point. First of all, I’m not confirmed. I’m not there. And this is frankly not a point I’ve discussed with the administration, but I will take that back too.”

Rubio: “Well and I’m respectful of the reality that in order to have the operating space to be effective, that you don’t want to necessarily be in a direct and constant conflict with the host government. On the other hand, there comes a point, I would argue, Senator, and I hope you keep this in mind, with that, effectiveness cannot come at the expense of our fundamental rights- the fundamental rights of the people of that country, and in particular, what we stand for as a nation.

“And I would just caution, again, as you see the Chinese attitude toward some of these issues, their attitude, basically, is, ‘Mind your own business on these issues. If you want to have a good relationship with us, you need to stop speaking out on these grotesque human rights violations.’ And I hope it never becomes the policy of the United States to look the other way on these issues, for the purpose of achieving a more friendly operating environment, because that, I hope, is not the definition of this new model of major country relations.

“I think if the Chinese are willing to use their newfound economic and even military abilities to be a productive member of the global community, committing themselves to things like freedom of navigation, respect for human rights, I think that would be an extraordinary development for mankind. If, on the other hand, this newfound power is used to turn their neighbors into tributary states, and to continue to oppress people within their own country, I think we have a big problem and a major, major challenge.

“And so, again, I know you need to go back to the administration on some of these issues, but I hope this is not a matter of debate. I hope that it is clear that we want a good relationship with China, but not at the expense of the fundamental human rights that define us as a nation and as a people. And I think you’re going there at a very unique time, where freedom activists in that country are looking for an advocate and a spokesperson that will stand with them strongly. They look to America to be that, and you have a unique and historical opportunity to do that. And I hope it’s one that you will embrace.”