Time for Public Statements in Defence of Human Rights

US Senator Bob Menendez (Photo: MSC)

 

 

If China wants to be a part of the rules-based economic order, we welcome it. If not, then we must recognise it as such.

 

Sometimes as it relates to the Indo-Pacific region, we pose the question as to the choices between the United States and China. I think there is a different option.

The choice is between international law and the rule of law. There is an opportunity for human rights and democracy. There is an option of the international free trading structure. One can choose the law of the sea or irregular actions. From my perspective, the United States needs to be as a Pacific nation - we have a very significant interest in the Pacific.

America needs to be engaged in strengthening regional architecture, not in tariffs but the international trade agreements. We have to work with ASEAN and other institutions in meeting the challenges of the region.

We have been more involved with India in the Maritime space. When I was in India recently we went to the Western Command. We saw how the US and Indian Naval operations were taking place not only in the interest of the two countries but others within the region. Therefore the full engagement on our side is needed, to support regional architecture in terms of some of these institutions.

The United States needs to work with its allies in the region to strengthen these institutions. Some, due to the historical perspective, were not willing to take challenges in the region. I understand the historical reasons but they are not relevant now. In this new reality, if the region wants to assert itself, it has to rethink about some structural issues that ASEAN and others have had.

 

We seek to create is the rules-based system

Americans need to realise there is also another perspective from China with 1.5b people. The Indo-Pacific region brings to power through organisations and structure nearly 2b people with some of the most dynamic economies in the region. That is a unique centre of power. Helping to catalyse it is extremely important.

Are we approaching the end of globalisation?

I do not believe that it needs to be so. The United States should focus not only on confrontation but more importantly on the competition with China. How we compete is incredibly important, not only for the United States but for the entire region. What we seek to create is the rules-based system. China has a different view about that rules-based system. It has different claims, for example, in the South China Seas, that creates irritants. This is fine.

 

We need to commit ourselves to challenge violators of human rights

But Beijing has to address its legal challenges in the appropriate venues. It can not to ultimately seek the bumping of the naval ships in the waters, not to throw your aeroplane over the middle of the Taiwan Strait, not to challenge, as they did to Vietnam last year, in its exclusive economic zones. Those actions are not within the international order.

We welcome China to join in a rule-based international order that supports free and open trade, that ultimately engages in the rule of law, that observes human rights and democracy.

For the United States, and the United States Senate, human rights and democracy are critically important. If you are Uighur in China, you want us to be casting light upon the oppression these people are facing. If you are oppressed in North Korea in the slave camp, you want the international community to be casting the light. If you are in Venezuela, and ultimately having to flee, where over 1m people had to flee Venezuela creating an incredible challenge in the region, you want the world to be focused on that.

Therefore although I understand quiet diplomacy, I also understand that they are times we need to commit ourselves to challenge those in the international order, who violate basic decency of human rights, democracy; particularly international recognition of human rights.

Sometimes a private statement achieves nothing more than the acknowledgement, the public statement creates a challenge to that nation, society.

These are the underpinnings of an economy, which is not just for economic sense, but that strengthens the broader goal. If China wants to be a part of that economic order, we welcome it. If not, if it seeks to be outside of that economic order, then we must recognise it as such.

When there are nearly 2b people in the Indo-Pacific joined together with some incredible regional economies that there is a great opportunity. And that needs to advanced, not simply the divisions between East and West.

 

 

Hon. Bob Menendez -  senior United States Senator. Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

 

 

This is a slightly edited transcript of the remarks at the Munich Security Conference on Feb 15, 2020.

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