U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton has added a level confrontation to her rhetoric on China, warning in a phone call with Iowa voters that toy and food imports from China could be a threat during the U.S. holiday season. “One of the things I don’t believe we should have to worry about is the safety of our food that is served for Thanksgiving or the toys that we buy our children for Christmas,” she said.
“I’ll improve the safety of children’s toys and stop dangerous toys from getting into our children’s hands by completely banning lead in children’s toys,” she said.
“If China expects to do business with the United States, they’re going to have to meet higher standards.”
And if American companies think that they can get a cheaper deal by going to China, well, they’re got another thing coming, because they’re going to have to meet the same standards.”
Clinton also claimed experience confronting China, referring to her speech at the U.N. World Conference on Women as first lady in 1995. “I went to Beijing in 1995 and stood up to the Chinese government on human rights, women’s rights,” Clinton said.
Or did she? Here’s the portion of her speech that most directly addresses the Chinese government:
I believe that, on the eve of a new millennium, it is time to break our silence. It is time for us to say here in Bejing, and the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights. [...]
It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.It is a violation of human rights when woman and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution. [...]
Women must enjoy the right to participate fully in the social and political lives of their countries if we want freedom and democracy to thrive and endure.
It is indefensible that many women in nongovernmental organizations who wished to participate in this conference have not been able to attend — or have been prohibited from fully taking part.
Let me be clear. Freedom means the right of people to assemble, organize and debate openly. It means respecting the views of those who may disagree with the views of their governments. It means not taking citizens away from their loved ones and jailing they, mistreating them, or denying them their freedom or dignity because of the peaceful expression of their ideas and opinions. [emphasis mine]
The second to last paragraph refers to the fact that some members of NGOs were unable to attend the conference because of Chinese government objections. This does not seem to me to be a particularly strong statement, though it certainly would not have gone unnoticed by the diplomatic class.
Indeed, the remarks may have been carefully calibrated to make headlines without being especially disturbing to U.S.–China relations, which at the time were strained because of a visit to the U.S. by then President of Taiwan Lee Teng-hui. From The New York Times’ report on Sept. 6, 1995:
A senior Administration official traveling with Mrs. Clinton was at pains after the address to explain that it did not mark a return to a more vocal confrontation with China over its poor human rights record. In recent months, Washington has sought to tone down its public remarks on human rights abuses in favor of a more private dialogue that had few results.
“There is nothing in her speech that in any way deviates from our approach on China,” the official said, “or on our desire to get the relationship stabilized and to get some momentum going. This is a United Nations conference and she was speaking out on a global problem.”
At the time, the first lady told a press conference, “To me, it was important to express how I felt and to do so as clearly as I could.” I’d say the message could have been more clear, but clearly the message got to the Times.
ALSO: In my Googling on this issue I found that Adam Minter of Shanghai Scrap has picked up on this as well.
(h/t The China Game)