Main Link: He Qinglian’s BBC article
He Qinglian is a Chinese economist and author who has lived in the U.S. since 2001. In an article published by the BBC‘s Chinese website (last updated on May 9, 2012) [ this account of it based on the May-7 updated version], she argues that in terms of national interest, America is rather selling benefits, than gaining them, to act in accordance with its values. There was no economic benefit to be gained by focusing on human-rights issues in its talks with China. Accusations that America was using human rights issues as a “tool” to serve its national interest, as claimed both by the CCP and by a number of dissidents, too, therefore made no sense.
It’s the case of Chen Guangcheng and his family which prompted her article. But her advice on how to help with human-rights issues goes beyond the current situation.
The efficiency of Metternich-style diplomacy had become very limited, she writes. Global decisions sought by America depended on China’s cooperation, and Europe was busy with its sovereign debt crisis (and was seeking cooperation from China, too). America’s best diplomatic “weapon” now was to apply its “soft power”, to influence China by persuasion (劝说, quànshuō) and by exchange of benefits. Otherwise, the inevitable result of situations like the current one was international humiliation of China – it would either turn a deaf ear to the matter, or fight back.
The idea that America “used human right criticism as a tool to pursue its national interests” had been an educational and propaganda line which had become deeply rooted in China – a country with a popular saying of “peole die for wealth, and birds die for food” (人为财死，鸟为食亡). CCP propaganda which kept using the concept of natonal interest was therefore highly efficient, exactly for the situation as it was at home, within China.
He Qinglian sums up why, she believes, the American-Chinese talks didn’t get derailed while secretary of state Hilary Clinton was in Beijing:
I don’t believe that China could be inspired by American soft power, and I can only guess what China got [from America] so that the good “partnership” continued.
Taking refuge in the American embassy was therefore – probably – no regular approach Chinese dissidents could take, writes He Qinglian. Each of them would have to seek international help in some ways, to different extents, in accordance with their individual situations.
One may agree or disagree with her, but I seem to sense the soulsearching and the trouble she felt when writing her article. One of the commenters underneath, under the pseudonym of Grief and Resentment (哀怨人), commenting from the U.S., suggests that there is a kind of helplessness (一种无奈感) in it.
Basically, if anything, He Qinglian seems to endorse the U.S. State Department’s approach, rather than calls from Capitol Hill, from news comments and elsewhere, to do more than what has been done so far.