Human Rights and Chinese Interests

At The Diplomat, the Project 2049 Institute’s Julia Famularo writes of the need to persuade China that upholding human rights is in its own national interest:

Beijing has consistently justified human rights abuses in the pursuit of “social stability,” argued Dr. Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch. She highlighted the role of “civil society groups and advocates,” who “continue to slowly expand their work despite their precarious status,” as well as the “informal but resilient network of activists,” which “monitors and documents human rights cases as a loose national ‘weiquan’ (rights defense) movement. These activists endure police monitoring, detention, arrest, enforced disappearance, and torture.”

[…] The United States and its democratic partners need to think more creatively about how to best promote and protect human rights as well as achieve the release of political prisoners. U.S. leaders must continue to speak out publicly and privately in meetings with their Chinese counterparts to make our principles and aspirations clear. However, we should also increase the number of academic exchanges and Track II dialogues to constructively engage China at all levels of society. Through measures designed to build trust, enhance transparency, and share best practices, the United States can make it clear to China that we have mutual interests in elevating human rights. For example, legal and judicial exchanges have already provided China with the resources and knowledge it needs to make positive legal reforms to its criminal code.

China acts—and will continue to act—in its own national interests. The U.S. must convince China that a sustained focus on human rights does not constitute diplomatic containment. […] [Source]

Ian Johnson highlights another example at The New York Review of Books, in a wide-ranging review of Geoff Dyer’s The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China–and How America Can Win, Stephen Roach’s Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China, David Shambaugh’s China Goes Global: The Partial Power, and Geremie Barmé and Jeremy Goldkorn’s China Story Yearbook 2013: Civilising China. Johnson argues that China’s domestic human rights record undermines its trustworthiness, and therefore influence, on the international stage:

One could argue that human rights don’t matter to China’s rise—that these are domestic issues that won’t affect expansion abroad. And yet China’s narrow political system is clearly one reason for its neighbors’ suspicions. If the government continues to lock up moderates then many abroad will wonder if China is the sort of country that can make a long-term stable friend.

The most recent case was the conviction of rights activist Xu Zhiyong. In late January, he was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order,” stemming from his work to organize the New Citizens Movement. […] Harshness like this at home won’t prevent China from cutting resource deals—China has money, and these goods are for sale—but it will make it hard for any developed (and, by extension, democratic) country to treat China like a true long-term partner.

This theme is picked up with gusto in David Shambaugh’s China Goes Global: The Partial Power. Shambaugh is one of the most influential analysts of China–US relations. His book shows the flip side of China’s military rise: its inability to use its new power to influence the world. […]

What Shambaugh makes clear is that for all the bluster, China actually accomplishes little diplomatically. Except for events directly affecting its territory, it stays on the sidelines of most international conflicts, never shaping outcomes. Instead, its main foreign policy tool seems to be the ritualized state visit by foreign dignitaries. [Source]