Tuesday, August 23, 2011
I take the occasion to follow up on Rick’s post of yesterday concerning Vice President Biden’s unfortunate and misguided words about China’s one child policy. The Vice President said that he fully understands and would not second guess China’s course of action. Yet the Vice President spoke about human rights. I think he meant well by stating the following:
Maybe the biggest difference in our respective approaches are our approaches to what we refer to as human rights. I recognize that many of you in this auditorium see our advocacy of human rights as at best an intrusion, and at worst an assault on your sovereignty. I want to tell you directly that this is not our intention. Yes, for Americans there is a significant moral component to our advocacy. And we observed where we have failed, as well. But it is who our people are. But President Obama and I see protecting human rights and freedoms, we see it in a larger context, as well. Protecting freedoms such as those enshrined in China’s international commitments and in China’s own constitution—we see them as a key aspect of China’s successful emergence and the key continued growth and prosperity. I know that some in China believe that greater freedom could threaten economic progress by undermining social stability. I do not pretend to have the answer, but I believe history has shown the opposite to be true, that in the long run, greater openness is a source of stability and a sign of strength, that prosperity peaks when governments foster both free enterprise and free exchange of ideas, that liberty unlocks a people’s full potential. And in its absence, unrest festers.
It strikes me that the Vice President chose not to throw down any gauntlets during his address and the answers he supplied to questions after he delivered his speech. Yet in the same address and during the follow up Q&A, he chose to identify a major difference between the United States and China in his remarks about the rights of the human person. In this regard his “fully understanding” and “not second guessing” China’s one child per family policy stands in conflict with the position he took and advanced on human rights.
In particular, there is a consensus in international human rights circles on the principle (but not on the means) which acknowledges that couples and individuals, not the state, must decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children. China and other countries which have coercive measures that interfere with the rights of parents have been criticized for these measures by human rights advocates. It is a pity that the Vice President said what he did knowing that elsewhere in his address he made an important point about the rights of the human person.