Chinese human rights improve, attention remains on economy

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Some politicians favor discussions on money, and for those that do, ethics and equality can be left behind. Few might know, for example, that an amendment to Chinese criminal law, officially taking effect on Nov. 1, 2015, will prohibit capital punishment for nine crimes, including counterfeiting currency, forcing or arranging prostitution and smuggling weapons.

Professor of Economics Sherry Yu said the new amendment passed because China was trying to make a statement to the world and to the corrupt government officials that fled abroad. Yu noted that an increase in technology has emboldened the new generation, making it less afraid to speak out.  

This decision, which also restricts the number of times a corrupt official can seek a reduction to their sentence, came after a yearlong debate within the government. Though statistics on capital punishment in China remain classified, the Dui Hua Foundation, based in San Francisco, estimated that more than 2,400 Chinese prisoners were executed in 2013, compared with 38 in the United States. But while China’s human rights record has progressed over the past two years, the economy has, in fact, declined. Each politician spins the decline a little differently.

However, the American people are unlikely to be informed on this matter because, according to Professor of Political Science Barbara Hicks, “Poor attention and coverage is given to foreign affairs in the media.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, Jeb Bush said “we have an ongoing, deep relationship” with China and encouraged letting it “evolve.” In comparison, other GOP candidates such as Donald Trump oppose free trade with China due to their use of what he called “currency manipulation.”

In response, Yu said, “Currency manipulation is not an accurate [claim]. The current economic situation is beneficial to the U.S.”

Democratic-Socialist Bernie Sanders advocated on the Senate floor earlier this year that free trade with China was unfavorable, particularly due to the U.S. trade deficit of $342 billion dollars. Hillary Clinton, running against Sanders in the primary election, remains a skeptic, stating that the U.S. should “stand up” to China.

Yu argued that China’s dominance over American imports is not inherently bad, and that Americans benefit because due to the recent depreciation of Chinese currency, Chinese goods are priced lower. She noted that China’s purchasing power is in decline, which has resulted in a decrease of American exports to China. However, only five percent of goods in the U.S. are exported to China, a small minority of American trade. Thus, Yu concluded, “China’s slowdown doesn’t affect the U.S. that much.”

But a presidential candidate’s stance on economic policy with China, whether accurate or not, is unlikely to impact the outcome of the 2016 election because, according to Hicks, “Foreign affairs tend to have a lower role in politics.”   

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