Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Moral pressure : American democracy and Chinese human rights

  • Author(s): Chan, Stephanie Tze-Hua
  • et al.

In this study, I examine why U.S. policymakers and the American public continue to advocate a sanctions approach to international human rights promotion when this method of international influence is both highly ineffective and ethically questionable. I specifically explore this puzzle in the context of public and Congressional deliberations over U.S. human rights policy toward China from 1989 to 2009. Using qualitative discourse analysis of newspaper articles and Congressional hearings and historical analysis of the changes and continuities in U.S. human rights policy toward China over the course of 20 years, I analyze how participants justified their policy stances, whether or not these justifications were considered socially acceptable or unacceptable, and how this shaped what policy options were possible. I argue that advocacy for the use of sanctions for human rights promotion persists, in large part, due to the conditions of public deliberation. The findings reveal that sanctions advocacy thrives in a specific type of meaning context that constrains democratic deliberation--a sacred, morally polarized context. This meaning context made absolutist reasoning and authority bias acceptable, therefore, nullifying criticisms that sanctions are ineffective and unethical. In this morally polarized setting, the force of the better argument did not necessarily prevail, as deliberative democratic theorists would hope. It was not until Congressional deliberation shifted to a depolarized setting that the conditions became ripe for deliberation about other potentially more effective and more ethical approaches to human rights promotion. While calculations of economic and political costliness did constrain the use of some types of sanctions, they did not undermine the underlying sanctions logic toward human rights promotion

Main Content
Current View