US sanctions undermining own students' right to education

By Andy Mok
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 3, 2020
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According to human rights theorists, human rights are equal, inalienable and universal. This means that all people have the same rights; no behavior by or towards a person can change that; and every single human being has these rights. Moreover, according to Jack Donnelly, author of "Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice": "Human rights claims express not merely aspirations, suggestions, requests, or laudable ideas, but rights-based demands for change." As such, human rights are important because they enable a life of dignity and a life worthy of a human being. 

Less obviously, human rights actually affect human nature. This assertion may surprise those who think of human nature as pre-determined and immutable. But human rights theorists argue that since people have the potential for both good and evil, human rights, through their effect on social and state actions, play a crucial role in the manifestation of certain types of human nature and create a certain type of person. Therefore, a country's conception of human rights is a clear indicator of its moral vision and the type of people it seeks to create. 

The U.S. sanctions against certain Chinese tech companies – for what it claims are human rights abuses – are a good argument for why the U.S. might want to reconsider how it views human rights and the type of person it aims to create and sustain. In fact, if human rights were a class, the U.S. would earn a failing grade and have to retake the course. 

On July 20, the Trump administration targeted a number of Chinese companies which it claims are using forced labor or engaging in other human rights abuses against the Uygur people who have been the focus of U.S. and Western media attacks intended to disparage and undermine China. As a result, the Commerce Department announced sanctions on more than a dozen of these companies.

However, these sanctions are preventing many school districts in the U.S. from receiving laptops and other types of electronic equipment they ordered to allow students to attend school online this fall. This is a widespread problem that could affect millions of students across the United States. According to a recent AP report, Lenovo, HP and Dell, the world's three biggest computer companies, have told school districts that they have a shortage of almost 5 million laptops, with deliveries expected to be as late as the middle of next year. 

These sanctions deprive millions of American students of their right to education. "We were promised devices. Our students need devices. And as a result of not receiving devices we will have students starting the school year unable to participate. It's unconscionable," said Lara Hussain, an IT director for the Denver Public Schools District, which is the largest in the state of Colorado.

However, this is only the most obvious human rights violation. It is accepted in the human rights community that the rights to work, to free choice of employment and to just and favorable working conditions are an essential part of the entire package of human rights. By denying these students access to a proper education, the United States is damaging their future competitiveness in the global marketplace. 

In its pursuit of twisted notions of national security, the U.S. has left its own children facing a diminished future because of its misguided and self-destructive attacks against China. 

Human rights, including the rights to an education and employment, are vital to ensure a life worthy of a human being. However, they also lay bare the moral vision of a country and the type of people that country wishes to foster. What the U.S. is doing is both a tragedy and a travesty. It can and must do better. 

Andy Mok is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for China and Globalization and Geopolitics Lecturer at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

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