Why China’s hard-line position on human rights is a strategic folly

Why China’s hard-line position on human rights is a strategic folly

Beijing will pay dearly for its uncompromising stance

Those unnerved by the rapid escalation of tensions between the U.S. and China in the last few years can be forgiven for feeling relieved that the incoming Joe Biden administration will adopt a more nuanced China strategy dramatically different from Donald Trump’s scorched-earth approach.

By all accounts, Chinese President Xi Jinping should welcome a temporary pause in the down spiral of Sino-American relations. Although Biden will continue to treat China as America’s most serious long-term geopolitical threat, his administration will also adopt a more diplomatic tone toward China to avoid gratuitously antagonizing its leaders. Washington will pick its battles with China more selectively, and seek its cooperation where mutual interests are aligned, such as climate change and pandemics.

However, Biden can also be expected to be much tougher on China’s human rights abuses than Trump, who showed scant concern for more than a million Muslims incarcerated in China’s concentration camps or Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters. Washington’s renewed pressures on China’s human rights abuses will put Beijing in a quandary.

Strategically, China’s long-term interests would be well served by responding to Biden’s human rights offensive with major concessions, such as the immediate release of Muslims incarcerated in Xinjiang and suspending the enforcement of Hong Kong’s harsh national security law.