Date of Award

Winter 2000

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Studies

Committee Director

Francis Adams

Committee Member

Regina C. Karp

Committee Member

Gilbert R. Yochum

Committee Member

Jie Chen


Amid the globalization of markets and the interdependence of states, human rights violations throughout the world still persist. The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between the economic interdependence of nations and the moral responsibilities of nations by examining the case of the 1994 decision by the Clinton administration to delink China's human rights practices from most-favored-nation status.

The annual 1997 Freedom House world survey of human rights rated China at its lowest point and quoted that “the regime continues to have one of the worst human rights records in the world.”1 Yet despite China's ongoing human rights transgressions, economic relations between the United States and China continue to expand. The 1994 decision is a particularly significant one because it represents a decisive change in how human rights issues are—and will be—addressed in U.S. foreign policy. The decision brings to the fore the conflicting issues of states' moral responsibilities to the protection of universal human rights and states' economic interests. 2

This study adds insights not only into the Sino-American relationship, but also into the broader understanding of the relationship between national interests and ethical principles.

The three major competing theoretical paradigms of realism, liberalism and radicalism are applied to the question of why the Clinton administration considered it no longer useful to condition trade on China's respect for human rights. The findings suggest that each paradigm alone was theoretically limited in explaining the motives for the decision, and therefore, an alternative explanation, that considers the complexities of the post-Cold War era, is advanced.