On Tuesday, International Human Rights Day, spokesperson Hua Chunying mounted a familiar defense of China’s rights record at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ regular press conference:
Q: It’s the Human Rights Day today. Certaincountry raises concerns over and criticize human rights in China. How do you respond?
A: Relevant country has made irresponsible accusations about China’s human rights situation in disregard of basic facts. China is firmly opposed to that.
The Chinese people have the best say in the human rights situation in China. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The past 70 years witnessed sea change in China and historic progress in its human rights cause. Seventy years ago, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, the Chinese people realized liberation and became their own masters. Over the past 70 years, the Chinese nation has found its feet and become prosperous and strong. The Chinese government and people attach great importance to human rights cause, espouses a people-centered view of human rights, integrates the principle of universality of human rights with national conditions, and regards the rights to subsistence and development as its primary and basic human rights, opening a new path of human rights protection with Chinese characteristics based on its national conditions. We ensure enough food and clothing for nearly 1.4 billion people, cut impoverished population by 850 million, provide employment for 770 million people, and offer basic security to 250 million elderly, 85 million persons with disabilities and more than 60 million persons that receive urban or rural minimum living subsidies. We have made a historic leap from poverty to adequate food and clothing, and to a moderately prosperous society for around 1.4 billion people. Besides, we have developed the largest national education system, largest social security system, largest medical system and largest community-level democracy system in the world, which composes an epic of China’s human rights progress, offers solutions for international human rights protection and enrich the diversity of human civilization. This is an undeniable truth for all impartial persons. [Source]
Hua went on to note that the MoFA and State Council Information Office would host the "2019 South-South Human Rights Forum" this week "with a view to adding new dimensions and injecting impetus into exchange and cooperation in the field of human rights." Her comments also included notice that the cases of detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been referred for prosecution on charges involving state secrets. She also responded to a question about American officials’ comments on China’s ongoing mass detentions in Xinjiang:
The remarks made by relevant people on the US side once again remind us of the fact that the US is not only a superpower in today’s world, but also a super liar.
[…] The Uighur ethnicity is part of the big family consisting of 56 ethnic groups in China, tightly united together like the seeds of a pomegranate. They are living a better life and fully enjoy the freedom and rights. China also enjoys friendly and close relations with the vast majority of Muslim countries in the world. It is understandable for the US to be envious. However, it is unacceptable if it is spreading rumors to smear and slander us. [Source]
Hua’s argument that "the Chinese people have the best say in the human rights situation in China" echoes the claim made by Xi Jinping in Moscow in 2013 that "’only the wearer knows if the shoe fits.’ As for whether a country’s developmental path fits, only the people of that country have the right to say." A number of online commenters subsequently complained that they had not been adequately consulted about the figurative comfort of their footwear. One, Wuyuesanren (@五岳散人), commented on Weibo:
My take on the shoe-and-foot question: Whoever buys the shoes has the last word. The common people pay taxes, so they have the right to say whether or not the shoe fits, as well as the style they want. A well-chosen pair of shoes also comes with a warranty and the privilege to exchange or return the items. The shoes themselves don’t have the qualifications to say whether they fit or not. Shoes that do aren’t shoes, they’re shackles. [Source]
The following year, activist Cao Shunli died in hospital after being denied treatment while in detention. Cao was being held after taking part in a two-month sit-in outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ headquarters, calling for public participation in the U.N. Human Right’s Council’s Universal Periodic Review.
George Washington University law professor Donald Clarke commented:
You could say the same thing about how well you treat the animals in a zoo. You should treat the animals well, and doing so is praiseworthy, but it's not the same thing as them having rights. When Chinese *agitate* for adequate food, clothing, jobs, etc., they get arrested. https://t.co/jRGNSFwZEx
— Donald Clarke (@donaldcclarke) December 10, 2019
In a statement on Tuesday, the E.U. Delegation in China acknowledged China’s achievements, but noted that "having endorsed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, […] China made a public commitment to the international community to uphold international human rights laws and to defend universal values."
China has made remarkable progress in the social and economic situation of its citizens, including poverty alleviation, gender equality, improved access to health and education, and reduced maternal and infant mortality.
At the same time, basic human rights in the civic and political field, including rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration and also in the Constitution of China, are not being guaranteed. China is yet to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights it signed in 1998.
Each year a significant number of people are still sentenced to death and executed by the Chinese authorities, also for many non-violent crimes. The EU urges China to reduce the number of crimes punishable by the death penalty, subsequent moratorium and ultimately abolition of the death penalty.
The EU is concerned at the continuously worsening human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and in Tibet. Reports point to severe restrictions of the freedom of expression and association, and of the freedom of religion or belief in all of China; as well as continuous large-scale extra-judicial detentions. Destruction of mosques, temples and other religious sites take place systematically. Mass detentions of Uyghurs and other minorities in political re-education centres and intimidation of citizens by mass surveillance in Xinjiang still continue. Uyghurs abroad, including in the EU, are being harassed and in some instances returned to China involuntarily.
[…] The EU is also concerned at the continuous arrests, detention and imprisonment of human rights defenders, lawyers and other citizens exercising fundamental human rights. Human rights defenders and activists including Ilham Tohti, Tiyip Tashpolat, Wu Gan, Tashi Wangchuk, and Huang Qi, human rights lawyers Wang Quanzhang, Li Yuhan, Gao Zhisheng and Yu Wensheng have been convicted, detained, or forcibly disappeared. Released activists, such as Jiang Tianyong, have been put under heavy surveillance that amounts to a house arrest and are denied medical treatment. [Source]
The U.S. Consul General for Hong Kong and Macau Hanscom Smith argued similarly in an op-ed at South China Morning Post:
Sadly, not all nations respect their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Chinese government, for example, has forced more than 1 million Uygurs and members of other Muslim minority groups into internment camps in Xinjiang since 2017, demolished numerous Christian churches and has repressed the religion and culture of Tibet for decades.
[…] Engagement with the Chinese people on these important issues would lead to greater mutual understanding yet, on the mainland, our ability to communicate directly – the same way Chinese diplomats are allowed to communicate to the American people – is sadly curtailed.
On this International Human Rights Day, the United States reiterates its unwavering support for Hong Kong’s cherished freedoms, legal system and way of life. It is the United States’ long-standing policy that China honour its commitments to protect those rights, as outlined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, an international treaty filed with the United Nations. [Source]
At Hong Kong Free Press, the Uyghur Human Rights Project’s Omer Kanat commented on the ‘South-South Human Rights Forum’ hailed by Hua Chunying, as well as on China’s efforts to undermine rights mechanisms at the U.N. (the subject of an in-depth 2017 report from Human Rights Watch).
In 2017, three days before Human Rights Day on December 10, Beijing hosted the ‘South-South Human Rights Forum.’ The event took place as the Chinese authorities were interning vast numbers of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in concentration camps. More than 300 delegates from 70 countries attended. The outcome document, the ‘Beijing Declaration,’ affirmed states should “choose a human rights development path or guarantee model that suits its specific conditions.” In sum, China sought an international clearance for the concept of ‘human rights with Chinese characteristics’ sublimating individual and collective freedoms to the needs of the state.
[…] Among the enablers of Xi Jinping’s repression are states with disreputable records attracted to a possible exemption from universal standards that ‘human rights with Chinese characteristics’ affords. And again, if we could freely ask the populations who reside in these states how they feel about such a concept, there would be few advocates. Therefore, on Human Rights Day, we have a responsibility to defend those who defend universal values and be clear ‘never again’ has meaning. There is injustice everywhere and we must fight it. Uyghurs are among them, for example, the imprisoned Ilham Tohti, and in exile Rebiya Kadeer, Nury Turkel, Rushan Abbas, and Gulchehra Hoja, whose families have been detained and disappeared in East Turkestan because of their advocacy. The second ‘South-South Human Rights Forum’ is opening in Shanghai for this year’s Human Rights Day. The dangerous fiction of the ‘Beijing Declaration’ that there are exceptions to the universality of rights should be firmly resisted. [Source]