Critics are accusing President Donald Trump of abandoning America’s principles of human rights and press freedom during his just-completed trip to Asia.
In separate critiques, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders charged Trump with effectively condoning rights abuses and anti-press practices of some of Asia’s most notorious authoritarian regimes.
“The United States’ voice on human rights has basically disappeared,” Human Right Watch Asia Director Brad Adams told VOA.
“President Trump is providing the region’s authoritarian leaders with a blank check,” added Daniel Bastard, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk.
The press freedom group criticized Trump for allowing Chinese President Xi Jinping to prohibit reporters’ questions during what was billed as a “joint press conference” during their meeting in Beijing. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the question and answer session had been canceled “at Chinese insistence.”
In a statement, Reporters Without Borders noted that then-President Barack Obama also had been heavily criticized for not allowing questions on his first trip to Beijing in 2009, but he convinced the Chinese press secretary to take questions when he returned five years later.
“Leaders of some of the most repressive countries in the world for journalists are witnessing just how little the American president values the First Amendment,” said Margaux Ewen, Reporters Without Borders advocacy director for North America. “(This) is completely detrimental to any future U.S. efforts to push for the release of bloggers and reporters in places like China and Vietnam, or greater protection for journalists in the Philippines.”
White House officials did not immediately respond to a VOA request for a response to the criticisms; but on the flight home, Trump defended his strategy of building personal relationships with leaders such as China’s Xi, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
“Relationship is always important. It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily close. It’s really a relationship based on respect,” Trump said. “To me, a relationship based on respect is much more important than anything else, including friendship.”
Trump pointed out that improved ties had enabled progress on issues such as reining in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, helping to win freedom for several U.S. college basketball players accused of shoplifting in China, and securing the future of a key U.S. military base in the Pacific.
In a series of Twitter posts Wednesday, Trump blasted media coverage of his trip, aiming in particular at two of his favorite targets, CNN and The New York Times.
In another tweet, Trump seemed to suggest that his strategy of working with repressive Asian governments would pay long-term dividends.
Rights activist Diane Blake of the Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States acknowledged the unpleasant choices all U.S. presidents face in balancing the need to uphold the principles of human rights, while at times handling relations with real world dictators.
“I know it’s hard to do both, to care about human rights and to do what’s best for your country. It’s not an easy job,” Blake said. “Sometimes your job as president is to do the best for your people in your country. So it’s not a carte blanche answer.”
Then she paused for a moment and added, “But I think Trump has taken it to an extreme.”