Yesterday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, accompanied by Ivanka Trump, presented the annual Trafficking in Persons report.
The report has four tiers:
Countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards.
Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
TIER 2 WATCH LIST
Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND:
a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing;
b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or
c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.
Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.
The report reflected a harsh reassessment of China.
China has been comfortably ensconced on the Tier 2 Watch List in all save one year since the inception of the report. This year someone decided that nearly two decades of dissimulation and obfuscation was enough.
China is among the world’s worst offenders for allowing modern slavery to thrive within its borders, according to a strongly worded State Department report released Tuesday.
In its annual assessment of global efforts to end human trafficking — with an estimated 20 million people remaining in bondage around the world — the State Department dropped China to the lowest tier of its ranking this year, as it did with the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo.
Those three nations joined 20 others already in that lowest designation, including Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela.
And China is not happy.
China responded angrily to the report, even ahead of its official release. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters that “no country is immune from this problem and China does not appreciate being judged according to U.S. domestic laws and standards,” NPR’s Anthony Kuhn reported on Morning Edition.
I think it is most helpful to view this decision through the prism of North Korea. After the April summit between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, there was a general feeling that an opening had been made that would lead to China increasing pressure on North Korea to tone down its provocations and curtail its nuclear and missile tests. The Chinese coal embargo seemed to be a good sign of that. But the pressure hasn’t been sufficient to curtail North Korean missile tests. So now some political and economic actions that had been held in abeyance are coming to the fore. The Trafficking In Persons report is just the first of those. Not only does the Trafficking In Persons Tier 3 ranking give the President the authority to take some punitive actions but other issues are moving that will be affected as well:
Mr. Trump decided to brush aside his fierce campaign criticisms of China’s currency and trade practices in hopes that the country would rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. But Mr. Trump acknowledged last week that China had done little to pressure the government in Pyongyang, marking a failure of one of the administration’s top foreign policy priorities.
The Commerce Department is expected this week to announce that for national security reasons, the domestic steel industry must be saved from imports, beginning a process that could lead to significant tariffs being placed on imported steel. That action would likely infuriate the Chinese.
Thus, the designation of China as one of the world’s worst offenders in human trafficking is part of a cascade of signals from Washington that relations between the United States and China could soon slide steeply downhill, just as relations between the United States and Russia are reaching depths not seen since the Cold War.
I think that overstates the case by half but it is a clear signal that relations with China are transactional and the driving policy behind our relations with China across the board is curtailing North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. At some point, China will have to decide which problem is easier to manage.