As the US bridges trade relations with China, a Republican Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, warned his government that China shouldn’t be exonerated of its human rights record, despite improved trade relations. Senator Rubio has said that the signing of a U.S-China trade deal will not prevent the United States from criticizing China on its abuses.Sen. Rubio was interviewed on US news network CBS on 6 January he said,
“I will never accept the notion…that somehow, in order to be able to sell them more things, we have to look the other way on some of the grotesque human rights violations that we’re seeing systemized on their part, both in the Xinjiang province throughout China in general, but also in places like Hong Kong, as well.”
In April 2018 Sen. Rubio raised the idea of imposing sanctions on Chinese officials under the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act. He also applauded the move made by the House last month to pass its amended Uighur Human Rights Policy Act. The Act works with the aim of pressuring China over its brutal mass crackdown on ethnic Muslims in the far west of the country. If the bill were to be ratified, the State Department would be obliged to assess if Chinese officials would be liable to face sanctions under the Magnitsky Act.
The US is set to sign a trade deal on 15 January which marks “Phase One” of US-China trade negotiations. The deal was announced in December 2019, when the two parties had agreed on the wording of a nine-chapter agreement covering topics including agricultural products, dispute settlement, intellectual property, technology transfers, and others. President Donald Trump tweeted that the two countries had agreed to a “very large Phase One Deal”. On 31 December he posted,
“I will be signing our very large and comprehensive Phase One Trade Deal with China on January 15. The ceremony will take place at the White House. High level representatives of China will be present. At a later date I will be going to Beijing where talks will begin on Phase Two!”
China’s vice-commerce minister, Wang Shouwen said both countries would need to go through legal checks, translations, and arrangements in order to be ready for an official signing ceremony.
Trump said high-level Chinese government officials will attend the signing on Jan. 15 of “our very large and comprehensive Phase One Trade Deal with China.” Confirming that the signing was going ahead, China’s South China Morning Post reported that a Chinese delegation would be travelling to Washington on 13 January to sign the agreement.
Responses from other U.S officials have echoed the concerns of Senator Rubio, despite Trump’s silence on the issue. In November last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also suggested proceeding with caution, calling on China to honour human rights standards regarding the Hong Kong protests. The preceding month Pompeo also condemned China’s treatment of Muslims as an ‘enormous human rights violation’.