Human rights activist Harry Wu and journalist Ross H. Munro will spar tonight on the issue of whether or not the United States should use economic sanctions to influence the human rights policies of foreign countries.
The debate, which was organized by the Williams College Debate Union, will take place at 8 p.m. in Chapin Hall.
Harry Wu, the founder and executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation and a well-known human rights campaigner, and Ross H. Munro, distinguished journalist and author of The Coming Conflict with China, will be the featured speakers at the debate.
Wu will be joined on the proposition team by Assistant Professor of Economics Michael Samson, and Josh Kelner ’01. According to Samson, the proposition team will argue that economic sanctions (when used properly) are a neccessary component of any U.S. foreign policy that seeks to meet America’s human rights objectives.
In addition to Munro, the opposition team will feature Associate Professor of Political Science George Crane, and Chris Kemmitt ’01. They will argue that economic sanctions isolate foreign countries, depriving the United States of political influence and valuable trading opportunities.
Both Wu and Munro are knowledgeable concerning issues related to human rights and economic sanctions.
Wu spent 19 years as a political prisoner in the Chinese government’s “Bamboo Gulag,” and has since dedicated his life to exposing China’s human rights violations to the world. Since 1991, he has returned to China three times to secretly visit prison camps and film the atrocities occurring there. He has testified before the U.S. Congress on China’s human rights abuses, and is the recipient of the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award and the AFL-CIO Award For Outstanding Public Service and Leadership on Issues Affecting All Working Men and Women. Wu is also the author of the international bestseller Bitter Winds, which tells the story of his imprisonment in China, and Troublemaker: One Man’s Crusade Against China’s Cruelty.
Before becoming vice-president and director of Asian studies at the Center for Security Studies in Washington D.C., Munro served as the bureau chief for Time magazine in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and New Delhi. He has covered such stories as the transfer of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty, the Afghan War, the Cambodian War, and the democratic movement in Burma. Munro has testified before Congress on U.S.-China relations, and provides political risk analysis for corporate clients. In the book, The Coming Conflict With China, which he co-authored, Munro argues that China is emerging as the chief global rival of the United States, and that China views the U.S. as its enemy.
Samson, a specialist in macroeconomics, monetary economics, and financial liberalization in labor-intensive countries, has worked as an advisor to both the Nicaraguan and South African governments, two countries that have been the targets of US economic sanctions.
Crane, a former chair of the Asian studies department and director of the Williams-in-China programs, is currently researching economic nationalism in China and Taiwan. He is the author of The Theoretical Evolution of International Political Economy: A Reader and The Political Economy of China’s Special Economic Zones, as well as numerous articles on China.
Although neither of the student debaters is an expert in the fields of Chinese affairs or economic sanctions, they have been meeting regularly with their faculty teammates and a research assistant to study the topic and plan strategy.
“Personally, I have no background on either China or economic sanctions, but Professor Crane obviously does.” Kemmitt said. “And we have a research assistant who is doing his best to hide my ignorance on the subject.”
The format of the debate is adapted from the parliamentary debate style employed by the Oxford Union. Each debate features two teams comprised of one faculty member, one student, and one invited speaker, and is moderated by a panel of students. Before each side gives its closing argument, members of the audience have the opportunity to give one-minute floor speeches in favor of the side with which they agree. At the end of the debate, audience members will vote on which team they found more convincing by exiting through separate doors marked proposition and opposition.
John Kravis ’99, one of the founders of the WCDU, lauded the interactive components of the debates.
“What makes the debates so interesting is that they are dynamic and interactive,” he said. “Audience members get the chance to participate by giving floor speeches, stomping their feet in approval, hissing in disapproval, and voting at the debate’s end.”
According to Kravis, the WCDU looks for debate questions that have clear yes and no answers. They also selected the topic for tonight’s debate as a result of its volatility.
“We realized while we were trying to find guest speakers for the debate that, suprisingly enough, most foreign policy people don’t want to talk about China,” Kravis said.
Samson, who admits that the last time he participated in a formal debate was in the fifth grade, said he hopes the debate will “stimulate some clear thinking about a complex question in political economy and help us to understand better how the United States can contribute to improving human rights in an increasingly complex world.”
Crane expressed a similar sentiment. “I expect lively presentations of contending views on this topic,” he said. “And I hope that (the debate) is well attended.”
Tonight’s debate is the first in a series of two that the Williams College Debate Union has planned for this academic year. The second debate, in January, will focus on the issue of free speech and the Internet.
The debate is sponsored by the President’s Office and the Gargoyle Society.