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In Confronting China on Human Rights, Biden Can Learn from Reagan

Rasmus Sinding Søndergaard, The Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark

As Joe Biden considers making human rights a central part of his China policy, he can learn from how Ronald Reagan successfully integrated human rights into his foreign policy towards the Soviet Union.

Human rights issues are poised to play a much larger role in U.S.-China relations after Joe Biden takes over from Donald Trump. Much like his predecessor, Biden has signaled his intentions to be tough on Beijing but with a much stronger emphasis on criticizing human rights abuses like those against the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang and democracy activists in Hong Kong. As Biden moves to confront China on human rights while also seeking cooperation on issues of mutual interests, he can learn from how Reagan succeeded in doing this in his Soviet policy. History suggests that striking the right balance between criticism and dialogue will be crucial and that a key benefit of speaking out against human rights abuses by an authoritarian rival might be domestic. 

 

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