Taiwan Could Hold the Key to Fixing Human Rights in China

The U.S. could finally push China to improve human rights.

China’s recent surge in protests against worsening pollution, unpaid wages, the widening income gap, corruption, police brutality, and an unresponsive legal system leave the Chinese government vulnerable to citizens’ demands for improved human rights. Already, Wukan village exploded into violent protests against the brutal torture of Xue Jinbo that left him dead. Xue had been protesting 20 years of government seizure of farmland for building luxurious abodes – protests that have been spreading throughout China as a result of the widening income gap.

This increase in discontent and unrest could provide the U.S. the chance to pressure China for greater freedom expression. The U.S. could use its economic advantage with Taiwan to persuade it to become a modern vassal state of China in exchange for intellectual property rights. If the U.S. paid Taiwan to become a modern vassal state, Taiwan would retain its economic prosperity and human rights and democracy, and China would get its proximity to reunification – a concession to gain freedom of expression.

Harvard sociologist, Martin Whyte, explained that Chinese people already want more freedoms, but “don’t have sufficient faith in legal procedures or the media and feel they have no redress when bad things are done to them.” They just need the outside support to get more freedom, and the U.S. can help. Washington could play off Chinese citizens’ growing discontent to pressure China into observing human rights by using its influence over Taiwan.

In order for China to make any concessions on human rights demands, the U.S. will need to give China a deal that will make it feel that the U.S. respects China’s sovereignty. The way Washington can do this is by getting Taiwan to become a modern vassal state. To China, Taiwan represents Washington’s taking of China’s territory through the Kumintang (KMT). Gaining namesake authority over Taiwan with the help of the U.S. would symbolize Washington’s respect for China’s sovereignty. Chinese President Hu Jintao has said, “Achieving reunification by peaceful means best serves the fundamental interests of all.”

A modern "vassal state" would give China the privilege of name sovereignty while allowing Taiwan to retain its sovereignty, economic prosperity, and human rights and democracy. Two-thirds of the current generation of Taiwanese said these rights would persuade them to become closer to China. However, for Taiwan to be a modern vassal state of China, Taiwan would have to pay tributes to China.

Taiwan could get money for tributaries from more open markets. The U.S. could sign the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) and Visa Waiver Program. Trade between Taiwan and the U.S. stood at $62 billion in 2010 and would only grow. A Visa Waiver Program easing border controls would only increase the 400,000-500,000 travels between the U.S. and Taiwan. In exchange, improved intellectual property laws in China would save the U.S. $2 billion from stolen lost property.

Intellectual property rights would require anti-censorship laws to promote intellectual property rights’ goal of innovation and creativity. Thus, an exchange of intellectual property rights for helping Taiwan get closer to China could bring about an improvement of human rights in China.

But in order to accomplish this strategy, Washington needs the will to improve human rights in China. The U.S. could finally take one step towards enhancing the freedom of expression – a path that could lead to greater democracy and human rights in China – but will it do that remains the question. 

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