Human Rights Backlash

Following the China-US Human Rights talks held in Beijing this June, the PRC has hit back strongly at US criticisms of Chinese personal and political freedoms with their own condemnations of US human rights policies. In several recent articles released by state controlled news giants People’s Daily and Xinhua, the Chinese media argues against both the validity of “human rights diplomacy” as used by the US and called into question America’s human rights record at home and abroad.

Branding the human rights diplomacy first enacted by US President Carter as ‘preaching’ and an “excuse to interfere in other nations’ internal affairs”, the Chinese media has attempted to put heat on the United States government by citing China’s own US human rights report. Charging the ‘world’s richest state’ with “rampant gun violence, serious racism, … increasing poverty” People’s Daily claims that the US, inaccurately cited as “the worst country for violent crimes”, also harms the rights of their citizens via their inaction on crime. Bizarrely, the article went on to claim that the US violated the civil and political rights of 6,000 people during 2008-2010 via airport ‘electronic device searches’ and that the “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act” passed in 2010, imposes “strict restrictions on cyberspace”. However, the act allows for the internet to be “shut down” only in designated ‘national emergency’ situations and cannot be compared to the vaunted ‘Great Firewall of China’ in terms of the severity of ‘internet restrictions’.

Also of note was the CPC’s coordinated attack of the perceived Western policy of ‘human rights, overriding national sovereignty’, something that People’s Daily columnist Wang Hanlu, in an apparent reference to NATO’s intervention in Libya, states is “messing up the whole world”. Hanlu then equates human rights violations with US refusals to sign the Ottawa anti-land mine treaty, and Kyoto climate change treaty. Though the Ottawa treaty is also currently unratified by China and under the terms of Kyoto; China currently has no obligations towards halting climate change, as it is a “developing state”.  Arguing for Western political cynicism, unnamed government sources cited in an April 11th People’s Daily article also state that Washington uses human rights as a “political instruments to defame” and “seek its own strategic interests”. The article goes on to cite statements from Beijing; that some governments exhort human rights as they violate the sovereignty of others, causing “humanitarian disasters” and “human rights scandals”, though no examples are provided.

In retort to the US report, the PRC’s media ultimately attempted to recast perceptions of human rights in China as a ‘case in progress’; with a seperate May 4th People’s Daily article on human rights stating that “China has always been open and pragmatic to advance human rights” and that “its people’s political, economic and social rights have improved remarkably”. In it People’s Daily called for foreign patience and understanding on Chinese human rights issues, rather than just condemnations. In the same People’s Daily article and in an article Xinhua China’s version of its human rights record was vouched for over the US’s and both went on to state that “the Chinese people are most qualified” to speak on internal human rights issues. In direct contrast to what the 2011 US human rights report says, they argue the growth of government sanctioned “grass-roots democracy” (despite the recent ‘Jasmine Revolution’ crackdowns) and greater social freedoms are signs of Chinese progress on freedoms. Again, no compelling examples of the Chinese claims on freedoms are evident or offered, although People’s Daily and Xinhua do cite irrefutable increases in living standards, healthcare acess and wealth as a positive influence on human rights in the country.

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