As the U.S. Ambassador to China, I am honored to mark International Human Rights Day in Beijing. It is an opportunity for us all to reflect on the progress each of our nations has made, and the road still ahead, to ensure freedoms for all.
This year, December 10 marks the 70th anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that each and every one of us has the right to freedom of thought, religion or belief, expression, peaceful assembly, and association. I have witnessed China’s tremendous progress in many areas, including the lifting of hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty. Protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms enhances China’s ability to foster innovation and stability and ensure lasting prosperity. Conversely, censorship, restrictions on fundamental freedoms, and discrimination inhibit a country’s development. Failure to protect fundamental freedoms does not guarantee stability, but undermines the trust societies place in their leaders. In addition, failure to protect fundamental freedoms damages the international reputation of any country, and serves as a serious impediment to any country’s desire to become a leader in the international community.
I can tell you that China’s approach to human rights directly impacts our overall bilateral relationship. It also has also left a deep impression on me personally. In my 18 months as Ambassador, I have engaged a wide range of Chinese citizens to discuss human rights. While we understand the developmental challenges that China faces, we reject the notion that countries with different political and social systems, or at different stages of development, should be held to different standards on human rights. The Universal Declaration, which China has adopted, makes clear the international standards covering how all countries should treat their citizens.
When I speak about human rights, I do so out of respect for China and its achievements and for the dignity and worth of every Chinese citizen. This is why I am deeply troubled by the Chinese government’s worsening crackdown in Xinjiang, including the detention of as many as one million Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslims in internment camps since April 2017. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo discussed our concerns about the treatment of Chinese Muslims, in no uncertain terms, alongside his Chinese counterpart at our recent Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in Washington, DC, and the United States will continue to call on China to end these policies and free all those arbitrarily detained.
We remain concerned with ongoing reports of other human rights abuses in China as well, in particular the suppression of the fundamental freedoms of expression, worship, association, and peaceful assembly, and the unlawful detention of activists, lawyers, journalists, and civil-society leaders seeking to defend those freedoms. We continue to call on China to allow all individuals to express their views, to allow lawyers to defend their clients, and to permit journalists to do their jobs without interference, intimidation or retaliation.
We Americans know, from first-hand experience, that protecting these freedoms is difficult and never ending work. Every country has work to do. That work is not easy, and we welcome public debate over how best to grapple with our problems because the free expression of differing opinions helps us find solutions. In the coming year we will continue to work with the government and people of China to promote human rights under the Universal Declaration.