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September 24, 2017

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How Pelosi can aid China's human rights

The visit to China this week by the U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, one of the strongest critics of Beijing's human rights record in the last two decades, has spurred speculation as to what she might do during the trip, the official purpose of which is to discuss climate change.

Ms. Pelosi declined at a briefing to say whether she planned to discuss human rights, saying only that she wanted to secure support for a global pact on reducing carbon emissions, in advance of a major international gathering on climate change scheduled for December in Copenhagen.

The lawmaker condemned the Tiananmen Square military crackdown of 1989 and angered the Chinese government in 1991 when she visited Beijing and, together with two other members of Congress, unfurled a banner in Tiananmen Square that said, "To those who died for democracy in China."

Since then, she has remained a vocal critic of China and, last year, urged President George W. Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games.

This trip is reminiscent of the visit to Beijing in February by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said that human rights "can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis." It is 20 years since the Tiananmen Square crackdown, and the Chinese government is still not ready to talk about the event, despite the publication of the secret memoirs of Zhao Ziyang, the former party leader who was put under house arrest from 1989 until his death in 2005 for having sympathized with the students.

However, this does not mean that there has been no progress on human rights during the intervening years. China has acceded to quite a few human rights covenants, which means that it has accepted the right of the international community to take an interest in the human rights situation in the country.

This year, for the first time, it issued a human rights action plan for 2009 and 2010. The steps taken may be small but they do reflect genuine progress.

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