President Donald Trump has been positive toward Beijing on trade and currency while seeking President Xi Jinping‘s cooperation in pressuring North Korea on its nuclear program.
In its annual report on human trafficking, the State Department yesterday also demoted China to the lowest ranking over its trafficking record, putting it in the same category as North Korea, Zimbabwe and Syria. Afghanistan, Malaysia and Qatar moved up to Tier 2, a list of nations making significant efforts to comply, from the Tier 2 Watch List.
Beijing “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so”, said the report unveiled in Washington by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
But Trump has recently suggested he was running out of patience with China’s modest steps so far to pressure North Korea, which is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States.
The downgrading has the potential to increase tensions between the US and China, NPR’s Michele Kelemen reports.
Countries placed in Tier 3 can be penalised with sanctions, including the withholding of non-humanitarian aid and assistance that could affect agreements with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. A crowd of about 300 people, including Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Representative Chris Smith, who authored the anti-trafficking law that mandated the State Department report, attended the ceremony.
Thailand remained in the second tier of nations in an annual U.S. human trafficking report released Tuesday. Limited funding and poor training for personnel impede the investigation of many types of crimes, including human trafficking. She said combating trafficking is a “major foreign policy priority for the Trump administration”.
During a visit to Rome last month, she met privately with a group of African women who had been trafficked into prostitution. Officials in Beijing did not respond to a request for comment on the meeting. The State Department has urged China to release the activists immediately.
Myanmar and Iraq were also taken off the blacklist of foreign governments identified of having child soldiers, a move that Human Rights Watch said was premature in the case of Myanmar and undermines U.S. credibility in ending the use of children in warfare. USA officials told the news agency that Tillerson had disregarded recommendations of State Department experts, senior U.S. diplomats and the State Department’s legal office to keep the countries on the list. The State Department declined to confirm the designation or to comment ahead of the report’s release Tuesday, saying it “does not discuss details of internal deliberations”.
Human rights advocates criticized the decision, saying worldwide observers continue to document child recruitment by both countries’ militaries.
“Secretary of State Tillerson apparently believes the list is subject to backroom political calculations, rather than facts on the ground and US law”, said a statement by Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
Also known as Burma, Myanmar was promoted for its efforts against recruitment of child soldiers and its first prosecution of government officials under a human trafficking law. The group said the United Nations has documented child recruitment by Myanmar’s armed forces in 2016.
The two leaders also said in a joint statement that they strongly condemn Pyongyang’s continued provocations and pledged to work together to counter the North’s weapons programs, including by “holding accountable all parties that support these programs”.