A Case for Human Rights in China
I am writing this with the risk of not being able to go to China … but nonetheless, I believe my thoughts on the topic are worth expressing.
We should all aim to be on the right side of history, in the end.
Due to repeated human rights violations by the Chinese government in Tibet, Hong-Kong, and Taiwan, concerning domestic surveillance of journalists and opposing political actors; concentration camps where more than one million Uyghur Muslims are estimated to be held; and so forth, many countries have imposed sanctions and tariffs on China. This seems entirely necessary. The question of whether it is effective is for another post.
Human rights violations of this kind should not be tolerated for any member of the United Nations.
There certainly is a place for economic sanctioning. Many have commented that China used the trade war to cover up their human rights abuses in Hong Kong, for example. In fact, Trump had in June 2019 assured Xi Jinping in a private conversation that the United States would not criticize China’s actions in Hong Kong until trade negotiations ceased.
At one point Trump went so far as to say that “We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also supporting President Jinping.”
Trump has also called Xi his friend and “an incredible guy.” In response to internment and reeducation camps in the Xinjiang region, Trump responded “Well, I’m driving a fine line, because we’re forming…great trade deals.”
The rest of the world is not so quick to agree with Trump on Xi’s character and China’s conduct in Hong Kong.
China & International Human Rights
Nonetheless, China has in recent decades increased its engagement with international human rights discourses by investing in human rights research and scholarship.
Similarly, international documents on human rights issues are not only translated by Chinese intellectuals ‒ they also receive government support. Despite this, the liberal international order continues to criticize the Chinese government for domestic human rights abuses, rightly so.
Condemnations address the excessive use of capital punishment, the undermining of religious freedoms and freedom of speech, surveillance, and the torture of prisoners, not to mention other areas.
Internationally, China has suffered very few repercussions for their domestic human rights violations; in fact, Pitman B. Potter writes in Assessing Treaty Performance in China, that “China’s official governance” resembles that of “patrimonial sovereignty.”
In this sovereignty, officials and rulers are held accountable merely to “bureaucratic and political superiors” rather than the rule of law. Inadvertently, China has managed to evade official criticism from the UN’s Commission on Human Rights.
As of 2019, the Global Coalition urged the UN to address growing concerns over China’s human rights violations in China from Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang. The Brussels Liaison at the International Service for Human Rights, Sarah Brooks, argues that the global coalition of 321 civil society groups “for the first time” unites organizations against China.
It would not be a stretch to argue that continued pressure on China can result in some political change domestically, perhaps even large-scale changes in government.
However, human rights abuses alone will not create lasting changes in China ‒ we can intuit that from China’s recent conduct in Tiananmen Square.
In order for change to occur, a combination of economic misfortune and suppression of rights would have to stifle the government’s ability to lead effectively, leading the people to protest and the government to step down.
We may think that the recent scholarship in China on human rights and the related government funding can indicate some future progress. However, this connection is not so clear for us to be entirely confident.
It seems like we will just have to wait and in the meantime do everything we can as citizens to stay educated and involved in our local politics which then, in turn, influences international politics.
That is just some brief reflecting on human rights abuses in China. Let me know what you think in the comments!
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