China’s Challenge to the International Human Rights Regime
NYU Journal of International Law and Politics, Vol. 51, pp. 1179-1222 (2019).
44 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2019 Last revised: 23 Sep 2019
Date Written: May 1, 2019
China, emboldened by its growing power in recent years, has become more active in influencing the international human rights regime in favor of its own illiberal agenda. This article investigates China’s contemporary human rights theory and practice in the United Nations with a focus on Beijing’s strategies in the Human Rights Council. It finds that China, with the support of other authoritarian regimes and developing countries, has consistently sought to distort the Council’s procedures, undermine relevant institutions and promote the government’s preferred norms that are in tension with international human rights principles. The article critiques Beijing’s latest version of the unique concept “Human Rights with Chinese Characteristics,” which features a statist, development-first view. The concept not only serves as a convenient discourse to legitimize China’s domestic human rights abuses, but also threatens the fundamental principle of accountability and the rights-based framework of the international human rights system. It defines China’s differences from the West as inherent and entrenched, embodying identity-based, relativist politics that worsen political polarization in international organizations. The article concludes by discussing the interplay between China’s human rights practice and today’s global environment. The popular assumption at the time when China’s Reform and Opening-up began in the late 1970s—that China’s Communist Party and government might come to share ideals of enhancing global human rights protection—has long been outdated. The world must rethink how to address the challenge to international human rights posed by today’s Chinese Party-State.
Keywords: China, International Human Rights, Human Rights Council, 'Human Rights with Chinese Characteristics'
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