U.S. Human Rights Policy Needs To Change in Pivot to Asia from Middle East

As the United States looks towards its pivot to Asia, the government must revise its foreign policy and how it confronts issues on human rights. While the pivot is nowhere to be seen in the short term future, its investments and activities in the Middle East have the potential to preview future policies that are to be used in Asia.

Much of the United States’ policy in the Middle East and its advancement of democratic values is tied to aid and support for many countries. Noted examples include Egypt and Bahrain, which recently received widespread condemnation from human rights organizations over their use of force on protesters and opposition groups.

The United States had previously frozen arms sales to countries like Egypt in hopes to pressure greater reforms that would promote democratic systems and enshrine human rights as a core value. However, sales of weapons have resumed despite these reforms, even amid worsening conditions and rampant crackdowns on opposition groups. The same can be said about the environment in Bahrain, with leading activists being detained over questionable, if not absent, charges and little to no reaction by U.S officials.

It’s worrying to witness a foreign policy that fails to take an active approach on bettering human rights and fails to condemn friends and foes alike on such crimes. For the United States to prioritize regional hegemony over a campaign of human rights, especially after a pivot towards Asia would further delegitimize any and all efforts to portray itself as a global leader on such a matter.

And above all, there has been insignificant dialogue on examining root causes of regional conflict like the aforementioned support of oppressive regimes and economic inequalities. Rather, the United States has put into practice a policy of militaristic activity and conflict resolution through various forms that fails to include substantial and concrete reforms.

A positive outcome of the United States’ conflict resolution actions would be its interaction with China, working together as well as finding common ground in a region engulfed in violence.

Conflict resolution in the Middle East is not only vital to regional and national security, but also acts as an effective training ground for future US-Chinese negotiations. Situations like the Iranian Nuclear Deal and the Syrian Crisis requires the two nations, among several others, to broker a solution that satisfies all parties and lessens the friction between the two competing powers. Both countries benefit through this diplomatic approach, yielding possibly a better relationship as well as a calming market containing energy and investment opportunities.

There is no doubt that China has strong interests, especially economic, in regards to the Middle East as well as outlying Islamic countries. Both countries have attempted to strengthen ties for economic and security benefits with Arab states. China, though taking a non interventionist stance, has lobbied for greater security and stability as it keeps trade and shipping lines flowing safely. The Chinese government has also engaged in weapon sales, particularly with states that failed to gain desperately needed weapons  from the U.S government. China’s consumption of oil is steadily growing with most of its oil imports originating from the Middle East. And their stability and success translates into assured sources of oil.

The high consumption of these goods as well as a yearning for a stable market has translated into the backing of autocratic and oppressive regimes, as seen in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and other Arab states. Workers’ rights have been violated by employers, government critics face indefinite detainment, and the freedoms and education of women are heavily limited, if not underfunded, out of a lack of concern or a redistribution of funds that support a regime’s self interests. Stability provides the opportunities of success that the United States and China seek but at the cost of human rights and a steady progression on instilling democratic values. And it is this very issue the United States will confront as it pivots to Asia.

One of the challenges the United States absolutely must address is its entrance into the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which combines trade relations and human rights issues. Opponents of the deal reiterate its negative effect on rights as well as partnerships with member states which maintain egregious records of violations. Nations like Indonesia and Malaysia have failed to tackle human trafficking and have recently come under fire for its treatment of opposition groups and minorities.

The United States does indeed call into question the violations and crimes of a number of Asian nations, yet it fails to do so publicly with each and every perpetrator. It continues to ignore many communities subjugated to violence and suppression by state sponsored agitators.

And while the United States has previously raised concern on China’s human rights violations, outright explicit discussions would strain and deteriorate US-Chinese relations. A Chinese official has already deflected efforts by the Obama administration to center on and review such violations. Li Junhua, a senior foreign ministry official, repudiated comments from Tom Malinowski on China’s human rights violations, noting that the issue “should not dominate [the] discussion about our relationship.” It is its status as an economic power and a hegemonic entity that creates difficulties on approaching this very issue. The government faces the challenge of creating a relationship and close ties with the regional superpower while balancing its ultimate goals of promoting democracy and rights.

A pivot to Asia could very well result in a repackaged Middle East policy and its implementation. It is for this reason the government must adjust and reform its own program in relation to the Middle East to better its image as well as adapt to the climate in Asia.

Photo Credit: ITV News

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