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Time for allies to lay down the law to China

SHARE Time for allies to lay down the law to China

Madeleine Albright just visited China. On her next trip, here's what she should say to President Jiang Zemin.

Albright: We usually come to these meetings with a list of dissidents you've imprisoned. If we're lucky you toss us a bone, let someone out of jail and we pretend human rights in China have improved. We tell the U.S. press "We bluntly raised our human rights concerns, but we have other interests and can't hold the U.S.-China relationship hostage to human rights alone. And blah, blah."Let's stop this sham. You know that neither our allies nor our own business community will allow us to impose the sort of biting economic sanctions on you that would really get your attention. We could only muster such sanctions in times of war, and we're not in a war. But we have other tools. We have our own spotlight and we have the pressures building up inside your own country to move toward a more law-based society, and we intend to use both.

We're going to use our spotlight to highlight those areas where you've progressed in implementing rule of law instead of arbitrary Communist party rule, and to highlight those areas where you've not. That is going to be the thrust of our human rights policy from now on - rule of law. Get used to it. Rule of law. We're no longer going to treat human rights as simply winning the freedom of some dissident or as an isolated issue. No, no. The president has directed the State Department, Pentagon, Commerce, trade representative and every other U.S. agency dealing with China to formulate all policies vis-a-vis China with the long-term objective of encouraging you to replace arbitrary, unaccountable, opaque operations with rule-of-law procedures.

Now, you deserve recognition for introducing more rule of law in the areas of administrative procedure, copyright, even criminal justice - though your officials still have too much discretion in whether they implement these new laws. We know you're not making these changes for our sake. You're making them because you've concluded that without a more predictable, accountable rule of law you will never be able to get to that next stage of economic development, and since you have no ideology anymore - other than "to get rich is glorious" - if you can't deliver that next stage you're toast.

But we are going to keep pushing you, because there are still too many areas you haven't moved in: You still restrict freedom of association. You still use your laws to criminalize all sorts of peaceful activities, from political dissent to environmental advocacy. You still sentence people to "re-education through labor." We're going to draw attention to these practices in every international forum, with as many allies as we can.

And we are going to look for every vehicle - whether it's funding legal-education programs, helping to train Chinese criminal defense lawyers or intensifying our demands that you implement real commercial and intellectual property laws - to promote rule of law within China at large.

Jiang, when our human rights policy toward China focused on freeing dissidents, we could be 100 percent for it and you could be 100 percent against it. But when our human rights policy still cares about dissidents but makes its primary focus promoting rule of law in China, you can't be 100 percent against it, because you're instituting rule of law for your own reasons and betting that you can do it in some sectors while never letting it apply to you at the top. That's fine. We'll take that bet.

Mao said "We will never accept foreign capital." Then Deng came along and said "We will accept foreign capital, but never foreign norms." Now you come along and say "We will accept foreign capital and some foreign norms, but not others." OK, we'll wait for the next guy. But in the meantime we'll have a human rights policy toward China that helps make it a better place for the Chinese people and that lays down some rule-of-law foundations for whatever comes after you.

Jiang to Albright: What does it mean to be toast?