Why did Trump avoid discussing human rights at the US-North Korea Summit?

Friday, June 15, 2018

By Hu Ping 
(Source BBC)http://www.bbc.com/zhongwen/simp/world-44464336 

The U.S.-North Korea summit, which has attracted worldwide attention, ended. We regret to find that human rights issues have been ignored at this U.S.-DPRK summit. 
Trump revealed he had brought up human rights with Kim Jong-Un. A US journalist asked: “So you put the human rights issue on the table today and he reacted how?” Trump replied: “Very well. I mean, we obviously were talking about the denuclearization 90 percent of the time, but we put a lot of other things, including human rights were mentioned, getting the remains back were a big factor, in fact we put it in the document, we were able to get that in the document.”     

So as it turns out, the human rights issue that President Trump was referring to was a US human rights issue (the repatriation of the remains of US soldiers) and North Korean human rights were never mentioned. 

Some journalists continued to ask pointed questions: “In January you said that North Korea has more brutally oppressed its people than any other regime on Earth. Do you still believe that is the case?” Trump answered: “I believe it's a rough situation over there...It's rough in a lot of places, by the way, not just there.” 

This is a blatant dodging of the question. Admittedly, the main focus of this US-North Korea summit was the denuclearization of North Korea so temporarily putting North Korean human rights issues to the side is understandable, but Trump’s aforementioned response easily gives people the impression of: as North Korea is not the only country stepping on its people’s rights so how could we, the US, possibly manage all of them? In connection with Trump repeatedly praising Kim Jong-Un and saying how he is “very smart, loves his people, loves his country”, this clearly is just Trump blindly flattering Kim but his words of praise also reveal to some degree that he disregards other countries’ human rights.   

Trump’s lack of respect for human rights is also made evident through his attitude towards the Chinese government. Indeed, the US Department of State’s “2017 Annual Country Reports on Human Rights” named and criticized China, in addition Trump’s previous and current Secretaries of State, Tillerson and Pompeo, each released a statement, one in June of last year and the other one in June of this year, but President Trump personally has not said a word about China’s human rights problems. But for US-China’s massive trade deficit and China’s theft of intellectual property, he does not mince words, which demonstrates he is not afraid of offending the Chinese government, and from this, it can be assumed his subdued attitude towards and even total silence on China’s human rights issues is due to a total disregard for China’s human rights. 

Trump does not care about other countries’ human rights or perhaps this comes from his “America First” principle. In his view, when it comes to other countries’ problems, if they hurt US interests, then the US must take them very seriously; however, other countries’ human rights are viewed to be their own internal affairs, if it is not the US’s concern then there’s nothing it can do. 

This kind of perspective has major problems. Take the US-China trade conflict for example, the reason for why the US suffered losses in its trade relationship with China actually has a direct connection with China’s egregious human rights situation. The so-called Chinese miracles are achieved in a large part thanks to the “low human rights advantage” (Chinese scholar, Qin Huiyu). It is because China has relied on their “low human rights advantage” that it has become the world’s largest  sweatshop. On one hand, it has transformed itself into a competitive force that is difficult for both welfare states and free states to compete with: good capitalism cannot compete with bad capitalism. On the other hand, it has caused China’s vast labor force to become a disadvantaged group; Chinese labor has weak collective bargaining abilities and cannot even compare with many African countries. Workers, therefore, are unable to receive the benefits they should have received from China’s economic development. Finally, this has resulted in China’s rise to also become tyranny’s rise as well as a threat to the world. 

Consequently, even if the US is coming from the angle of fighting a trade war, the US should place a greater focus on China’s human rights problems. It used to be that in a trade war between the US and China, the US’s hand held more cards but now China’s resilience has become greater. As China is an authoritarian state, the government can resolutely suppress any internal dissatisfaction or dissent; however, the US is a democratic state, in the event several of Trump’s measures in a short period of time do not receive visible results as well as result in hurting the interests of some communities, the American people can make use of this or that method to vote against the measures, halting them halfway and making it difficult for them to continue being implemented. Further, if the US fights a trade war, it is not likely to fight outside of expected scale and receive expected results, but if the US plays the human rights card, the situation will be entirely different. 

Playing the human rights card has another benefit, if the US just fights a trade war, the Chinese Communist Party will easily be able to tack the US with the crime of “not having given up on their wild ambition to subjugate our country” and “harming the Chinese people’s interests”, inciting Chinese patriotism and anti-US sentiments to help absolve itself of responsibility. If the US then plays the human rights card, it will highlight that the US is promoting Chinese people’s rights, especially the interests of China’s workers and lower class citizens. The Party will then find it difficult to use their usual critiques. 

Returning to the subject of North Korea, if North Korea truly undergoes denuclearization and concentrates its energies on developing its economy, this will certainly be a good thing. But, if North Korea chooses to use China’s model of development and the US supports North Korea’s economic development like it supported China’s economic development by avoiding the human rights issue, would it be good or bad for the world if the US helps North Korea become a mini version of China? 

Finally, let’s talk once more about China’s rise. China’s population is four times the size of the US’s population. What this means is that if China’s per capita GDP reaches a quarter of the US’s, China’s economy will exceed the US’s. Therefore, given China’s massive size, it is only to be expected and not particularly surprising if it becomes the world’s largest economy. Nevertheless, the question remains: if a rising China continues its human rights abuses and rejecting democracy, then free states and the entire world will inevitably face an unprecedented challenge and threat. Given this, the US as well as all democratic states must not take lightly the human rights issues occuring in countries like North Korea. 

Note: This article does not represent BBC’s opinions or viewpoints.