Human rights in China

US must stop using its report on human trafficking as a political tool

By naming China as one of the worst offenders, Washington is eroding ties that were only just starting to get back on track and also denigrating perceptions of a serious global problem

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2017, 1:12am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2017, 1:12am

The list of nations that the US State Department claims has the worst records for human trafficking and countries with which America has the most strained foreign relations are strikingly similar. China has just been added to the former and it would seem, if it does not satisfy US President Donald Trump’s demands on North Korea, could well head to the top of the latter. The annual report is in keeping with Washington’s self-appointed role as the world’s policeman and upholder of the highest values and standards. But using so serious a matter for political gain can only further erode respect.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson harshly criticised China when releasing the report. A particular focus was the tens of thousands of North Koreans believed to be working illegally in the mainland and sending earnings home, perceived by Washington as a violation of UN sanctions to punish Pyongyang for banned nuclear and missile tests. Also mentioned was the alleged forced labour of drug addicts and ethnic minorities. By dropping the mainland to the lowest of three tiers, it joined 22 other countries including North Korea, Russia, Iran and Venezuela which have long been on poor terms with the US.

US ranks China among worst human trafficking nations, risking a Beijing backlash

China has for years acknowledged smuggling from neighbouring countries for prostitution, forced marriages and illegal work. But in recent years, it has stepped up efforts to enforce laws against human trafficking. In addition to breaking up smuggling rings and making hundreds of arrests, agreements have been struck, particularly with Vietnam, to improve intelligence-sharing and border controls. Such efforts were not recognised by the US report.

Ties between China and the US were rocky until President Xi Jinping (習近平) met Trump in April. Rhetoric about Chinese currency manipulation and unfair trade practices was replaced by pledges of cooperation and mutual benefits. But pressure from Washington has been building on Beijing to do more to curtail North Korea’s threats, despite the Chinese strategy being to do what is constructive and useful. Using a human trafficking index as a means to attain that goal is not only misguided and likely to worsen ties, but also denigrates perceptions of a serious global problem.