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Human rights in China with the occasion of the Jasmine Revolution

The balance of the international system has been disrupted lately by the chaotic chain events in the Middle East. The political instability in Tunisia and Egypt have provoked fear to the majority of the international actors, who face this current situation as a threat for their internal political stability and have started taking strict measures in order to avoid any similar political escalations (Cara Anna and Charles Hutzler, Elaine Kurtenbach , 2011). China's authoritarian government has appeared to be concerned by the recent protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya and has limited media reports about them, stressing the instability caused by protests in Egypt, and restricted Internet searches to keep people uninformed (Cara Anna and Charles Hutzler, Elaine Kurtenbach , 2011). The Chinese authorities, have cracked down on activists, as it was believed that they were modeled by the pro-democracy demonstrations taking place in the Middle East. The Chinese government battled the so called "Jasmine Revolution", by detaining activists, increasing the number of police and censoring online calls to stage protests in Beijing, Shanghai and eleven other major cities. More than a hundred activists were taken away by police, the Hong Kong-based group Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said (Cara Anna and Charles Hutzler, Elaine Kurtenbach , 2011). Having all the above current escalating political events in mind we wonder what is the impact of EU’s foreign policy on the field of human rights in China? Has its contribution been fruitful in the progress of human rights concerning the ethnic minorities in China and to what extent is China willing to accept these amendments? This question is crucial to understand EU’s external politics and its power and role in the International System.


When being capable of answering to the above question we will have clearly understood the bilateral relations between EU and China, which have mainly an economic basis. We would also be able to understand the mutual needs and benefits of the EU and China and if there is any interdependence between the two parties. China would be willing to make changes on the human rights field, only if the benefits overweight the costs. Thus, from China‘s part, decisions are going to be taken through the cost- benefit analysis, if thinking in a rational way. That has the meaning, if China depends on EU then she would be more eager to following EU’s advice .When dependence exists, vulnerability can be observed mostly on the dependant’s actor decisions. So if China is highly dependent on the EU, then her vulnerability would be of a high level. Consequently it is expected that she will alter her attitude towards the human rights. The pressure the EU will impose to China will be based on the level of EU’s dependence on China. On the present paper we will examine the above mentioned topic from its theoretical point of view according to the social constructivism theory, focusing on human consciousness and its role in international life, with rationalism, principles, norms and ideas. Ideas in the world of politics have been shaped in a collective way through knowledge, symbols, language and rules. Those norms and ideas are acquired through social interaction. (Petar Petrov (2009) lecture notes in International Relations Cooperation and conflict). In our case human rights are concerned as a global principle, ought to be widely respected. This case study research has to do with the period from 1995 onwards, when China’s economy commences to flourish, cooperating with the EU just begins and the dialogue on Human rights respect and establishment emerges. We should bear in mind that in 1999 there is improvement attained in China’s policy on human rights field, according to European Council’s statistics. However, examining the year 1999, indicators depict deterioration in the issues of health, gender equality and net primary enrolment.


Relation between the EU and China through the years

A rapid development can be observed in China’s economy from 1995 to 2002, which altered other countries’ opinion and behaviour towards her. The EU’s goal was China’s domestic change and cooperation in global affairs. EU’s new policy towards China, mostly expressed through debates, established the basis of cooperation between the two. Strategic partnership commenced on the Beijing Summit in 2005 and on the Helsinki Summit in 2006. (X. Song, (2010) EU- China relations, lecture) EU’s new policy towards China can be illustrated through four new documents, starting in October 2006 with the Commission policy paper, continuing with the Commission policy paper on trade and investment in October 2006, the Council Conclusion in December 2006 and the Council Guidelines of EU’s foreign and Security policy in East Asia in December 2007. These new four policy documents demonstrated the close and strong strategic partnership between the two countries and their balanced and mutually beneficial relations. Concerning the debate it must be said that the EU Policy of ‘unconditional engagement’ in which EU grants China economic benefits in the hope that this will lead to democratic reform had no results. The EU should better abandon its policy of ‘no strings attached’ engagement and be tougher with Beijing. China’s official position concerning its relationship with the EU is that the Chinese government should re-adjust its EU policy and the 2003 policy paper should be updated. (X. Song, (2010) EU- China relations, lecture) For the EU China is considered as a major economic competitor in Asia, a security partner, together with Japan, as well as a trouble-maker in East Canada and India. Chinese on the EU are seen as a global economic and political military power, while the Europeans on China: are a global political and economic power2The EU in East Asia is present in the matters of politics and security. For China a strategic partnership with EU is really important, although for the EU is important but secondarily The financial was expected to provide new opportunities for EU-China relations, but in reality it was more beneficial for US-China, instead of EU-China co-operation. (X. Song, (2010) EU- China relations, lecture)


In China there are 55 ethnic minorities. The UN and the EU in collaboration with other institutions and organizations are striving to enforce the human rights in that country as many violations have been observed. When using the term violations in Human rights we mean the most common types of abuses, including arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, severe restrictions on freedom of expression and association and violations specifically to women. The most serious violations observed deal with control on expressions and associations, torture and ill treatment of prisoners, lack of judicial Independence and due Process as well as death penalty. (China Human Rights Fact Sheet, 1995): The EU’s Interference The EU considers human rights as a crucial issue for the social and political stability of any country and is striving to promote them. The EU is trying to protect Human rights also in the way of not letting business and trade interests trumping them,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch (.Human Rights Watchh 2009) “If China is not respecting the fundamental Human Rights, then it will be difficult for her to become a partner of the EU, as the EU and China partnership must be based on shared common democratic values.” She also stated. (Commission in China, human rights dialogue, Human Rights Watch 2009) Dialogue is the Union's way to strengthen the rule of law and the respect of the Human Rights in China. In 1995 the human rights dialogue was established between EU and China, where China is committed to responding. Two rounds of the dialogue are organized every year. The FIDH and HRIC are also of the opinion that the human rights dialogue should be part of an integrated strategy towards China, and be combined with pressure towards China. (European Commission in China, human rights dialogue,) The European Commission is emphasizing the importance of cooperative programs. The most important foreign assistance project of this kind in China is the EU-China Legal and Judicial Co-operation Programme. In addition there is the China Village Governance Programme, whose goal was the empowerment of civil rights, and the promotion of social and economic rights. The Equitable Development is being improved with the aid of the UNDP. aiming at the strengthening of the power of law


and the participation of civil society in China. The European Commission supports also Human Rights Seminars for European and Chinese experts. In that way Chinese and Europeans have the opportunity to discuss and bring up important subjects dealing with the Human Rights field (Commission in China, human rights dialogue,) The EU’s policy is to stop any kind of torture and ill-treatment in order to protect human rights. (Commission in China, human rights dialogue). The EU tried to persuade China to accept the ratification of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights3. Luxembourg, which had at that time the presidency, wanted the issue to be resolved, but this attempt failed as China passed a new law giving legal basis to use force against Taiwan (.CNN EU presses China on Human Rights. 2005) In 2001 on the 58th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Council was quite satisfied as China started becoming a more open society after the establishment of the rule of law, concerning democratic principles and human rights, including the economic and social reform process as well. The Council asked for some more supplementary amendments concerning the trade union law. Furthermore it urged China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and to cooperate more closely with UN human rights mechanisms, because China was still hostile and defensive towards the human rights mechanisms. Even nowadays the system of administrative detention and the death penalty are still pending. The respect for the human rights of prisoners, the abolition of torture, the respect for freedom of expression, religion and belief and the right of association including free trade unions are still violated. For example the situation is even worse when it has to do with the respect of cultural rights and religious freedom in Tibet and Xinjiang. China imposed severe restrictions against unofficial churches and religiousgroups depriving them of their religious and cultural rights. Even when it comes to fight terrorism China’s policy is disrespectful towards human rights.( China Human Rights Fact Sheet 1995) Every year the Council assesses the human rights situation in China in order to decide for a further resolution on human rights in that county. Until now the conclusions remain the same throughout the years, because of the lack of progress on this domain. (PRELIMINARY ASSESSMENT OF THE EU/CHINA HUMAN RIGHTS DIALOGUE arch 1995)


In 2007 the decisions of the Council were approximately the same as before except for the fact that China was encouraged to stop its ongoing support for the regimes in Myanmar and the situation in Darfur. The UN Member States were invited to promote peace during the Olympic Games and to tackle global challenges such as climate change, security, terrorism and non-proliferation of arms. The pirating was also referred and Chinese authorities were encouraged to improve the protection of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR); Furthermore, the EU was urged to ensure that improved trading relationship with China is contingent upon human rights reforms ( China: Resolution Places Human Rights At Centre 2007) The 25th round of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue was held in Slovenia, on 15 May 2008. and focused on the right of health and children's rights4 The freedom of expression and especially the press freedom were especially discussed as in 2002 China’s ranking on censorship was on the 138th place out f 139countries, followed only by North Korea. In2003, China ranked 161 out of 166. (Incorporating6.2004.pdfin violation of internationally agreed years.1995). The rights of minorities, in Tibet were mentioned too, but China insisted on its customary position concerning the socio-political situation there. The role of the Dalai Lama was discussed again as well as the cooperation with the UN mechanism and the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Lastly the release of the remaining Tiananmen prisoners was also discussed thoroughly. China made a commitment to ratify the ICCPR after the appropriate reforms to its judicial system were attained. The EU requested from China public statistics about death sentences and executions. (Presidency Press Statement on the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, Slovenia, 2008) Monitoring and assessing China's progress in human rights was conducted by HRIC during the 2008 Olympic Games. There are specific indicators concerning the progress and improvement on China’s Human Rights policy used by the EU, by UN and other multilateral bodies, international NGOs, and organizations. Results: Dialogue and pressure together exerted from many other international actors, have contributed to China’s improvement on the above matter. There have been accomplished visits to China by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, the signing


and ratification of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the one on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights and even release of prisoners (Commission in China, human rights dialogue). China started promoting social and economic development by creating programs of subsidies for reconstruction of temples. In 2005 the Chinese government passed a law for the commitment to literacy for all as well as other measures concerning the freedom of speech, the right to education and others. But these measures were not enough and probably not even applicable, in their vast majority. Although, the Chinese Government’s statistics show a high level of improvement and progress on Human rights field, after the Human rights dialogue was established, official statistics of the EU and others (Eurostat. Human rights watch etc) demonstrate the opposite than the Chinese government does. (Wen Hua 2009) The truth is that improvement started in 1999 mostly. Even though, protections of human rights remained weak and undermined by corruption. Lack of transparency and independence in judicial and policy decision-making processes were also apparent. What is more, independent voices of religious and cultural expression, democracy activism, workers rights, or critical reporting were silenced by imprisonment, persecution, intimidation, or death. Human Rights Watch pointed out that since the last EU-China summit the human rights situation in China has even worsened in several respects, including Tibet and the terrible earthquake in May 2008.In Tibet, hundreds of detainees are still unaccounted, Tibet is still not freely accessible to media and visitors. Concerning the families of school children who died during the Sichuan earthquake in May2008, many people are demanding an official inquiry into the buildings’ deficiencies, which is still not done, another proof of the lack of progress in China. (Human Rights Watch 2009) The reason for this failure is based on the fact that nothing will produce results more effectively than China's own concrete actions.


Conclusion Human rights violations in the People's Republic of China remain systematic. An example of this conclusion could be the so called country’s greatest diplomatic embarrassment, which referred to the Chinese authorities attack towards the Nobel Committee, when Liu Xiaobo, the only Chinese Nobel Prize winner, was being kept in prison by the Chinese government, as he was considered to be an activist. Beijing turned Liu’s win into an opportunity to begin a dialogue on political reform, as Liu had suggested the significance of the award (Council of Foreign Relations, 2011). This event illustrates the Chinese government 's arbitrary and sometimes abusive regime, where the lack of accountability of the government and the Chinese Communist Party is obvious (CCP) (World fact book). The human rights dialogue can and must be made more effective, transparent, and relevant to improving the human rights situation in China. China has its own tradition and beliefs which are not going to be altered or weakened easily, even if the international and especially European pressure is high. One of the reasons is that this country bases its existence and structure on its own history and customs. Tradition is a way of living, linked to religion, thus unchangeable and sacred. The last years China is more confident thanks to its economic development and does not worry about its place in the international system, thus she does not feel obliged to obey to EU’s advice for human right amendments. In China there is still an important democratic deficit and there is need for help for her democratization, which it is not accepted most of the times. The answer on that might be that it is a matter of image and prestige. China wants to strengthen her relations with other important international actors and her contribution to the global system but on the other hand she wants to show that she is strong enough and that she does not need prescriptions or advice, as far as they cross the line of its sovereignty. China is aware of the fact that she is a developing country which is probably going to become a great economical power in the near future but on the other hand she is a bit


unconfident because she can also realise her weaknesses, even though she tries to hide this uncertainty, so that the large powers do not take advantage of that. One of the reasons why EU’s impact on China is not the desirable one is because democratic conditionality has higher adoption costs for weak democratic systems and this is the case for China that has not got any democratic structure. ( Frank Schimmelfennig & Ulrich Sedelmeier 2004) Also China is of the belief that the EU is violating the principle mentioned in the UN charter for not interfering in the internal affairs of a country. The most important thing is to stick to the principles of mutual respect and not interfere in each others internal affairs,� the Chinese premier told a news conference after the summit. What we finally understand is that China has slightly progressed on the field of human rights thanks to the impact of the EU but the results are not apparent. She has mostly progressed as far as it concerns the theoretical part and not the practical one. There is much more to do from the part of the International Community and the EU so that China reaches the European standards, if she ever does, something which is under the veil of uncertainty because of China’s traditional structures and undemocratic policy.

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X. Song EU (2010) China relations (lecture slides in Eleum Petar Petrov (2009) Critical Approaches to the study of IR (lecture slides in Eleum) Frank Schimmelfennig & Ulrich Sedelmeier (2004), “Governance by Conditionality: EU Rule Transfer to the Candidate Countries of Central and Eastern Europe,” Journal of European Public Policy 11 (4): 661-679. (E-journal) Sandra Lavenex & Frank Schimmelfennig (2009) “EU rules beyond EU borders: theorizing external governance in European politics,” Journal of European Public Policy, 16: (6) 791 — 812. (e-journal) 1 In the petition delivered to Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer, the EU was asked to make the human rights issue a "vital" part of the summit. The Prague summit was set for last December but China called it off in protest at a meeting between Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Poland. 2 EU.27 – China Total: $425.578 billion ($292.878 of export) 3 a UN covenant on the basic rights of individuals and nations including rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of assembly and rights to equality 4 international NGOs participated as well

Human rights in China with the occasion of the Jasmine Revolution  

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