Human rights in China have long been an issue dear to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s more “practical” attitude toward “those issues” first expressed during the Secretary’s late February trip to China must have irked the Speaker…a lot.
As Speaker Pelosi told TV Host Charlie Rose in regard to Clinton in China, “We all have our roles. And I have, in my essence of my being, that I — for 20 years they have been saying to me, peaceful evolution. If you just be patient, there will be human rights and respect for another view in China. It hasn’t happened. And that’s really sad.”
The Speaker did understand the Administration’s concern that if she hammered China on human rights she might anger the country that holds much of America’s debt. There is an irony of her pushing through trillions in stimulus packages that rely on massive purchases of U.S. debt by the Chinese government. But how do you abandon the principles that compelled you just last year to give the Congressional Medal of Honor to the Dalai Lama?
Thus, it should not have been a surprise that the Speaker pushed/rushed through the House last week (March 11) H. Res. 226, “Recognizing the plight of the Tibetan people on the 50th anniversary of His Holiness the Dalai Lama being forced into exile and calling for a sustained multilateral effort to bring about a durable and peaceful solution to the Tibet issue.” She even had a roll call vote (unnecessary under the suspension of the rules) called so that everyone present would be on the record as supporting the resolution or not. There were 422 yeas and only 1 nay (Ron Paul, R-TX and he doesn’t believe the US should have a foreign policy).
The vote sent a populist message to the White House and to Secretary Clinton on human rights. Maybe the Administration worries that “those issues can interfere” with other matters in working internationally, but the US Congress also worries what would happen if the United States did not take a stand on protecting human rights and dignity.
As Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly told Politico “The speaker will continue to speak out on the human rights situation in China…As the speaker has said many times, if we do not speak out for human rights in China and Tibet, then we have lost all moral authority to speak out for it other places.”
Riding this wave was Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) and his resolution on child abduction, H. Res. 125. The obvious deal was that Smith would get his resolution with a few Democratic additions (examples from Japan and Mexico) in time for the Brazilian President’s visit this past weekend if he got the vote out for the Tibet resolution. Republicans were already on board for the Tibet vote, but Smith’s involvement guaranteed a majority of them present at the vote. The addition of countries that have not signed the Hague Convention was simply a political bonus for all concerned. This is an excellent example of bi-partisan cooperation structured to send strong messages to the White House on issues important to most Americans. It is tough to argue against family and freedom.
This is also a good lesson to China and Japan who have difficulty understanding the American Congress. Both prefer to operate through relationship “managers” and access to the White House. They both hire very expensive lobbyists who dismiss the minutia of popular politics and storm into congressional offices saying that their clients will be mortally, culturally offended. They also both think there are practical solutions to these “misunderstanding.”
What may be a win with senior officials can turn quickly into an embarrassment at the hands of Congress. And if your country is not close those standards held important to Americans, such as child abduction, human trafficking, free speech, expect a congressman to sometime spotlight that fact. And oftentimes, especially with a nonbinding resolution that has no effect on U.S. policy, a foreign government’s explanations make the situation much worse.
But as the Speaker said, "we all have our roles to play."