Both Candidates Ignored Human Rights in China During Final Debate, Activists Say

Patrick Burke | October 25, 2012 | 9:25pm EDT
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President Obama and Mitt Romney at the presidential debate Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. (Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo)

( – Top human rights activists are criticizing the lack of any explicit reference to human rights issues in China during the presidential debate on Monday, despite the fact that an entire section of the debate was devoted to discussing China.

“I am disappointed that amidst all the debate about trade relations between the United States and China, neither candidate mentioned human rights in China,” Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, told in a statement. “The two topics are related – or at least they should be”

Although both President Obama and Gov. Romney discussed in length economic issues as they relate to China, neither candidate discussed human-rights issues such as the LaoGai slave labor camps, forced abortions and sterilizations, and Tibet oppression.

Harry Wu, founder and executive director of the LaoGai Research Foundation, said U.S. politicians “don’t care” about human rights violations in China, and criticized those who seek to ignore human rights issues when talking with Chinese officials.

“Economic issues happen everyday, but what is the political environment? [In] China today, the Communists control the government, control the people, control everything,” Wu told

This picture purportedly shows a couple in Xinhua county, Hunan province, discovering that their wooden home had been destroyed by family planning officials in May 2007. The image was posted on the Chinese photo-sharing Web site,

In the third and final presidential debate on Monday evening, debate moderator Bob Schieffer devoted an entire segment to discussing China, asking both candidates: “What do you believe is the greatest future threat to the national security of this country?”

President Obama responded first, and discussed China as a trading partner with the United States.

“(W)ith respect to China, China is both an adversary, but also a potential partner in the international community if it's following the rules,” Obama said.

“So my attitude coming into office was that we are going to insist that China plays by the same rules as everybody else,” Obama said.

He added: “I know Americans had seen jobs being shipped overseas; businesses and workers not getting a level playing field when it came to trade. And that's the reason why I set up a trade task force to go after cheaters when it came to international trade. That's the reason why we have brought more cases against China for violating trade rules than the other -- the previous administration had done in two terms. And we've won just about every case that we've filed, that has been decided.”

GOP nominee Mitt Romney also discussed China as a trading partner and compared the Chinese economy with that of the U.S.

“China has an interest that's very much like ours in one respect, and that is they want a stable world. They don't want war. They don't want to see protectionism. They don't want to see the world break out into -- into various forms of chaos, because they have to -- they have to manufacture goods and put people to work and they have about 20,000 -- 20 million, rather, people coming out of the farms every year coming into the cities, needing jobs,” Romney said.

“So they want the economy to work and the world to be free and open. And so we can be a partner with China. We don't have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form. We can work with them, we can collaborate with them, if they're willing to be responsible,” he said.

For Littlejohn, the entire discussion of China ignored basic facts about human rights violations that are still part of Chinese policy.

“In discussing trade relations with China, we should keep in mind the fact that the Chinese Communist Party is a brutal, totalitarian regime,” she told

“Under the One Child Policy, women are forcibly aborted and sterilized.”

In this undated file photo provided by supporters of Chen Guangcheng, blind activist Chen Guangcheng sits at his guarded home in China’s Shandong province. (AP Photo/Supporters of Chen Guangcheng, File)

“In addition, human rights lawyers are beaten and detained, products produced in the LaoGai slave labor camps continue to be exported, and Tibetans continue to immolate themselves in a desperate attempt to focus the attention of the world on Chinese human rights abuses in Tibet,” she said.

Human rights issues should be linked with economic issues surrounding China, according to Littlejohn.

“The fact that China’s record of serious human rights abuses has been disconnected from discussion of trade talks is part of the legacy of President Clinton’s decision to de-link China’s MFN status from its human rights record,” Littlejohn told

“This was a huge set-back for Chinese human rights, which have deteriorated since.  China’s abysmal human rights record needs to be brought back into the discussion regarding trade relations with the U.S,” she added.

Not all human rights advocates saw things so starkly, however.

Sharon Hom, executive director of the group Human Rights in China, an international Chinese human rights NGO based in Hong Kong and New York, said even though the candidates did not mention human rights, they “did in fact talk about issues that have great implications for human rights in China.”

“Human rights are intimately related to trade and business. In that respect, the presidential candidates did in fact talk about issues that have great implications for human rights in China,” Hom said in a statement to

“Both candidates stressed the importance of China playing by the same rules as everyone else -- and we believe that one of those rules is upholding the rule of law,” she said.

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