European Institute for Asian Studies
12 June 2015
On Monday June 8, the Chinese State Council Information office released a white paper on human rights titled “Progress in China’s Human Rights in 2014”, claiming that the country is playing a constructive role in promoting development of global human rights. The paper praises the progress achieved in China since the last report in 2013: “The tremendous achievements China has made in its human rights endeavours fully demonstrate that it is taking the correct path of human rights development that suits its national conditions”.
The publication of this report is a response to the numerous criticisms from foreign NGOs from the US and the EU mainly, towards the government’s policy regarding its human rights record, especially since Xi Jinping took office in 2013. This is the 12th report the Chinese government has released since 1991.
The highly detailed paper is divided into eight sections, discussing the right to development, rights of the persons, democratic rights, the right to impartial trial, rights of ethnic minorities, women, children and senior citizens, persons with disabilities, the right to a clean and healthy environment, and foreign exchanges and cooperation. It details what progress has been made and how China “conscientiously fulfilled its international human rights obligations.”
Throughout the report, the paper stresses some progress through the creation of 13 million jobs in 2014, or the increase of 6,4% of the revenue per capita in urban areas. While China is regularly being accused of violating human rights, the report advocates an improvement in human rights by extending its definition to its prosperous movie industry. It remains unclear however how the growth of the movie industry in China is related to the improvement of human rights.
China traditionally adheres to a collective definition of human rights, which places economic development first, contrary to the approach chosen by Western-style democracies, that prioritize civil and political rights.
The white paper also stakes that China will continue to cooperate with UN’s human rights bodies. It will enhance cooperation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights and increase its donations to the UN office for 2014-2017. The mid-stage assessment of China’s National Human Rights Action Plan (2012-2015), done in December 2014, showed that most of the targets set in the plan had been reached, and a larger part of the quantitative indices was half achieved.
The legal reform in China had a new impulse last year when the CCP adopted a plan to promote the rule of law in October 2014. Since he took office, Xi Jinping, who has a doctorate in law, has vowed to put “power within the cage of regulations” and waged a war against corruption. Last year was the first time the party made “governing the country by law” the focus of its plenum.
Despite the figures provided, it is not certain how convincing this report could be to its detractors, who keep denouncing practices such as the persistence of censorship and the use of torture of journalists and lawyers.
The paper concludes, asserting that China is working closely with other countries to promote the development of human rights. As the EU is committed to promoting the human rights and fundamental freedoms, and it has long supported cooperation with China within the framework of the Human Rights Dialogue. Taking place twice every year, it allows both sides to exchange points of views, but the dialogue and concrete results are however impeded by the absence of a common definition between the two parties on human rights.