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History of the PRC’s Participation in International Human Rights Affairs and Its Contribution to the Cause of International Human Rights
October 23,2019   By:CSHRS

History of the PRC’s Participation in International Human Rights Affairs and Its Contribution to the Cause of International Human Rights

LUO Yanhua*

Abstract: The history of the participation of People’s Republic of China in international human rights affairs can be mainly divided into two phases since its founding 70 years ago, and it can be further divided into four stages with typical events after the launch of reform and opening-up. Since the adoption and implementation of the reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s China has witnessed the active participation and fruitful achievements of China in bilateral and multilateral human rights cooperation and communication, as well as making important contributions to the international human rights cause.

Keywords: 70 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China ; international human rights affairs ; international human rights cause

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China 70 years ago, the country has experienced major policies adjustment in its participation in international human rights affairs. Since the adoption and implementation of the reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s, China has witnessed the active participation and fruitful achievements of China in bilateral and multilateral human rights cooperation and communication, and it has made important contributions to the international human rights cause.

I. History of PRC’s Participation in International Human Rights Affairs

The history of the participation of the People’s Republic of China in international human rights affairs can be mainly divided into two phases, and reform and opening-up have brought major changes to China’s position and practice of participating in international human rights affairs.

A. China’s participation in international human rights affairs before the launch of reform and opening-up

After the founding of People’s Republic of China and before the launch of reform and opening-up, China did not involve itself in international human rights affairs too much due to the Cold War environment and its diplomatic relations with other countries at that time. The stance of China then was mainly to emphasize the right of people to self-determination, and to give support to Third World countries in their fight against colonialism and imperialism, and the fight of people for self-determination and national independence. At the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Western bloc and Eastern bloc were throwing each other into turmoil internationally, and human rights issues became weapons in the Cold War. Due to China’s diplomatic relations and its domestic political conflicts, China engaged itself less in the field of international human rights issues, so its influence was limited.

Nevertheless, China clarified its attitude and stance on human rights issues on some international occasions. This was exemplified by Premier Zhou Enlai signing the Final Communiqué of the Asian-African Conference in Bandung Conference in April, 1955. In this Communiqué, “Respect for fundamental human rights, and the purpose and the principles of the Charter of the United Nations” were listed in the first article among the ten principles for peaceful co-existence. Premier Zhou pointed out that the “ten principles in the Bandung Declaration have also regulated respect for fundamental human rights, and the purpose and principles of the United Nations Charter…these are the consistent propositions of the Chinese people and the principles which China always adheres to”.1

Because of the impact of the decolonization movement that began in the 1950s, China firmly supported the struggle for national independence of those countries that were colonized or semi-colonized. The biggest concern in the international struggle for Chairman Mao Zedong at that time was the right of peoples in the Third World to self-determination. He made many speeches expressing support for national independence and the liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The First World Conference on Human Rights, held in Teheran in 1968, fully affirmed the right of peoples to self-determination and put the issue of international protection of such right on the agenda. At that time, long introductions, comments and support for this conference could be found in various newspapers and periodicals across the whole China.

After gaining its rightful seat at the United Nations in October 1971, China began to dispatch delegations to participate in the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations to participate in deliberations on human rights issues. Nevertheless, it generally took an evasive attitude towards such issues, without participation and communication in the special discussions and the deliberations on human rights issues of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and it did not concern itself with the International Human Rights Conventions.2 Therefore, China’s role in the field of international human rights during this period was very limited, mainly focusing on the right of peoples to self-determination.

B. China’s participation in international human rights affairs after the launch of reform and opening-up

Reform and opening -up indicates the policy of domestic reform and China’s opening up to the outside world since the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, which was closely related to the participation of China in international human rights cooperation. Since the launch of reform and opening-up, China’s progress in international human rights affairs can be roughly divided into four stages.

1. Stage 1 (1978-1991)

China’s decision to take part in international human rights affairs was the fruit of the implementation of the reform and opening-up policy, the emancipation of the mind, and seeking truth from facts. With the implementation of the reform and opening-up policy, China’s attitude toward human rights issues changed. At this stage, China started to try to be a part of international human rights activity, understand and adapt itself to the operation procedure of such activity through participation.

In 1980, China embarked on considering and studying its participation in international human rights activities and established multi-department coordination groups. The themes of this study included: the principles of participation in international human rights activity; whether to join the International Human Rights Convention or not, and China’s fundamental position on some specific human rights issues. Before officially joining the Commission on Human Rights, China took part in the conferences of the Commission as an observer for three consecutive years from 1979 and formed certain views based on its observations: It was imperative that China be part of international human rights activity as such participation would bring more benefits than it would harm. In 1981, China campaigned to join the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and was successfully elected as one of the official members. The principles of China towards the participation in international human rights ac-tivity at that time were to be independent and proactive, but also to be prudent and make steady progress. Its basic stance and principles were as follows: supporting the established concepts of human rights, encouraging the fight for international human rights in the direction of anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism and anti-hegemony; adhering to anti-hegemony and protecting the interests of Third World counties without involving itself in their struggles; advocating that the United Nations should focus on the massive and serious violations of human rights; accepting the propositions of basic human rights and opposing any external interference in the internal affairs of other countries in the name of human rights; strictly guarding against subversive infiltration of China by Western countries under the pretext of human rights issues, and exposing the foreign attacks on and slandering of China; supporting and participating in international cooperation and exchange activity that will not cause harm to other countries; performing necessary obligations; giving priority to acceding to the human rights conventions against imperialism, colonialism and hegemony; and conducting studies on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as early as possible. Undoubtedly, this important decision to join the Commission was a great stride forward for China in human rights affairs, and was the fruit of reform and opening-up, emancipating the mind, and seeking the truth from the facts.3

Since 1981, China has dispatched representatives to all sessions of the Group of Governmental Experts of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights drafting the Declaration on the Right to Development, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1986. China has also sent representatives to participate in the drafting of international human rights legal instruments on many occasions, and participated in the working groups for the drafting of a number of conventions. The 1980s witnessed a boom in the People’s Republic of China joining international human rights conventions, with it joining 11 international human rights treaties in total.4 The reason why China actively joined so many international human rights conventions in the 1980s was closely related to China’s reform and opening-up policy and the consequent changes in its human rights awareness.

From 1989 to 1991, due to the influence of the 1989 political turmoil, China became the main target for the West’s human rights attacks. Western countries led by the United States lashed out at and slandered China, using “human rights diplomacy” against China, imposed political, economic and military sanctions and interfered in the internal affairs of China. During this period, China, on the one hand, responded actively to the Western countries criticism in all aspects and firmly opposed Western interference in China’s internal affairs; on the other hand, it also adopted some flexible measures on specific issues affecting its major national interests.

2. Stage 2 (1991-2003)

In the early 1990s, China made major diplomatic adjustments on human rights issues, marked by the publication in November 1991 of the White Paper on the Human Rights Situation in China. The White Paper made a penetrating summary of the history of human rights development, clearly pointed out that human rights are “the supreme ideal pursued by mankind for a long time” and “the lofty goal required by Chinese socialism”, and broke through the traditional concepts on the relationship between socialism and human rights by summarizing the historical facts and theories throughout the whole paper. For the first time, the banner of human rights has been rightly raised in a socialist country.5 This was the first White Paper of the Chinese government and the first official document on human rights in China.6 For the first time, the White Paper expressed China’s stance on international human rights cooperation to the international community: “China admits and respects the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations for the protection and promotion of human rights, appreciates and supports the efforts of the United Nations to promote human rights and fundamental freedom generally, and actively participates in the activities of the United Nations in the field of human rights.” “China advocates more international cooperation related to human rights on the basis of mutual understanding, seeking common ground while reserving differences”.7

Although the White Paper was issued at that time to face the changing international situation and the realistic need to respond to the West’s human rights attacks on China, it was also inseparable from the context of China’s reform and opening-up. It was the emancipation of the mind brought about by reform and opening-up that made this ideological breakthrough possible.

In the early 1990s, China’s reform and opening-up entered a new stage, marked by the Southern Tour of Deng Xiaoping in January 1992. The 14th National Congress of the Communist Party of China held in October 1992 announced that the biggest feature of the new period was reform and opening-up, indicating that reform and opening-up entered a new phase. It was against this background that the major diplomatic adjustments on human rights affairs were made.

After making major diplomatic adjustments on human rights affairs, China then adopted a proactive stance toward international human rights issues, promoting its stance on human rights through international human rights stages and counter-attacking the Western countries slander by highlighting its achievements on human rights over the past decades; encouraging equal dialogues on international human rights and opposing hegemony of any kinds in international human rights affairs; and uniting developing countries to make efforts to enrich, developing international human rights and protect their rights and interests in international human rights activities.

3. Stage 3 (2004-2012)

In March 2004, the Second Session of the 10th National People’s Congress of China solemnly declared to the whole world that the amendment to the Constitution of China would incorporate the provisions of “the State respects and guarantees human rights”. “The inclusion of Human Rights in the Constitution” was of great significance not only to the promotion of China’s human rights cause and social progress in an all-round way, but also to the improvement of China’s international image, the enhancement of China’s international status and the promotion of China’s foreign human rights cooperation. Reuters commented that “the inclusion of Human Rights in the Constitution” was a milestone for China, showing that the ruling Communist Party of China really represents the interests of the vast majority of the Chinese people. The Associated Press also published an article pointing out that “the inclusion of Human Rights in the Constitution” of China was great progress China’s society.8

“The inclusion of Human Rights in the Constitution” was achieved on the basis of further advancing reform and opening-up. On December 11, 2001 China formally joined the World Trade Organization, which showed that a historic shift had been made in the course of reform and opening-up. Since joining the World Trade Organization, opening-oriented reform has been dominant, bringing about further emancipation of the mind. “The inclusion of Human Rights in the Constitution” in 2004, was a major breakthrough based on the emancipation of people’s thought which not only served as a milestone for the human rights cause in China, but also steered China’s cooperation with its international peers on human rights affairs into a new stage with great strength and more aspects.

4. Stage 4 (2013 to now)

The 18th National Congress of Communist Party of China was held in Beijing on November 8, 2012. In 2013, China entered a new era of deepening all-round reform. During this period, an important feature of China’s reform and opening -up was to lead international cooperation through high concern for human destiny. It is under this background that China began to put forward the concept of a “community with a shared future for human beings”. On March 23, 2013, President Xi Jinping delivered an important speech entitled “Follow the trend of the times and promote the world’s peaceful development” at the Moscow Institute of International Relations in Russia. In this speech, President Xi first put forward the idea of “building a community with a shared future for human beings”. He pointed out: “In this world, the degree of interconnection and interdependence among countries is unprecedentedly deepened. Human beings live in the same global village, in the same time and space where history and reality converge, which increasingly becomes the community of shared destiny where we are inseparable from each other.9 In September and October, 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the cooperative initiatives of building a Silk Road Economic Belt and a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The Belt and Road Initiative as they are now collectively known, advocates developing economic cooperation and partnership actively with participating countries and jointly creating a community of common interests, destiny and responsibility featuring political mutual trust, economic integration, cultural inclusion.

With the proposal countries build a community with a shared future for human beings and the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s participation in international human rights cooperation entered a new stage. China’s participation in international exchanges and cooperation in the field of human rights has continued to develop, and some important ideas advocated by China have become important parts of the human rights discourse.

II. China’s Proactive Participation in Multilateral Human Rights Cooperation and Exchanges

A. China’s cooperation with human rights institutions established on the basis of the Charter of the United Nations

After the restoration of the legitimate rights in the United Nations in 1971, China started to take part in the work of human rights institutions of the United Nations, including dispatching delegations to attend related conferences and maintain constructive cooperation with related institutions.

1. China and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, established in February 1946, is the specialized agency for the consideration of human rights issues in the United Nations. Before formally joining the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, China participated in the sessions of the Commission on Human Rights as an observer for three consecutive years, beginning in 1979. In 1981, China participated in the election of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and was elected. Since 1982, China has become a full member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Since then, China has actively participated in various activities of the United Nations Human Rights Commission as a member until the United Nations Human Rights Commission was replaced by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2006.

2. China and the United Nations Human Rights Council

The replacement of the United Nations Human Rights Commission by the United Nations Human Rights Council was the result of the reform of the United Nations human rights institutions. The establishment of the Human Rights Council was first officially proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, at the UN General Assembly held in New York on March 21, 2005. In his report entitled “In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all”, he formally proposed the establishment of the Human Rights Council.10 The proposal for the establishment of the Human Rights Council was adopted at the World Summit in September 2005 and its responsibilities were clearly defined. The Outcome Document of the World Summit clearly stipulated that: “The Human Rights Council will be responsible for promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedom for all, without distinction of any kind, and with impartiality and equality. The Human Rights Council should address various human rights violations, including violent and deliberate human rights violations, and make relevant recommendations. The Human Rights Council should also promote effective coordination within the United Nations system and promote the human rights into the mainstream.11

China has played an active role in the consultation and final vote on the establishment of the United Nations Human Rights Council. China believes that the United Nations Human Rights Council should ensure its representativeness and become a place for dialogue, exchanges and cooperation. It should attach importance to and solve the longstanding credibility crisis of the Commission on Human Rights. When considering human rights violations, it should formulate fair, objective and transparent standards and procedures for deliberation so as to avoid politically oriented solutions, double standards and selectivity. In fulfilling its duties, the Human Rights Council should recognize the diversity of the world, respect the right of countries to choose their own social systems and development paths, promote dialogue and exchanges among countries, and jointly explore effective ways to promote and protect human rights. These proposals put forward by China have been recognized by the vast majority of countries.

After the establishment of the United Nations Human Rights Council China has played an important role in the Council. On May 9, 2006, China was successfully elected for a three-year term as one of the first members of the Human Rights Council in the 60th General Assembly with 146 votes. On May 12, 2009, China was successfully re-elected with 167 votes for a term of office from 2009 to 2012 in the 63rd General Assembly, changing the vote of 18 members of the United Nations Human Rights Council. On November 12, 2013, China was re-elected with 176 votes for a term of office from 2014 to 2016 in 68th General Assembly. On October 28, 2016, when the United Nations Human Rights Council held elections for members of the Council, China was re-elected for the fourth time with 180 votes for a term of office from 2017 to 2019. It merits attention that the number of votes for China consecutively rose in the four elections, from 146 (2006), 167 (2009), 176 (2013), to 180 in 2016. China’s four elections have far exceeded the two-thirds majority of the members of the General Assembly. This shows that China has received the support of the overwhelming majority of countries in the international community, and reflects the high recognition of China by the international community.

As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, China rigorously performs its duties and responsibilities, takes an active role in each and every conference and all the work of the Council, and accepts the universal periodic review of the Council. Until now, China has accepted a review three times, with the first review implemented in February 2009, the second in October 2013, and the third in November 2018. The reviews have delivered positive comments on the national reports on human rights submitted by China outlining its human rights conditions and actions.

3. China and United Nations Human Rights Special Procedures

Special Procedures system is a general term for a type of mechanism established by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that was taken over by the Human Rights Council to address specific country situations or thematic issues around the world.12 China attaches great importance to the important role of the United Na-tions Special Human Rights Mechanism in the field of international human rights and maintains good cooperation with said Council. Chinese government has responsibly responded to every letter from the United Nations Special Mechanism on Human Rights, and invited experts or working groups of several special procedures to visit China (see Sheet 1).

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B. China’s Cooperation with International Institutions on Human Rights 1. China’s participation in the international human rights treaties

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China has acceded to 27 international human rights treaties.14 A general review of China’s accession progress to international human rights conventions indicates that China’s accession mainly occurred in the 1950s, 1980s, and 1990s and after the 21st century. Exact dates of accession or ratification of the conventions are shown in table 2.

It was in the 1980s that China acceded to the most international human rights treaties. During this period, China acceded to the following 11 international human rights treaties: the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees; Protocol I (August 12, 1949) relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts; Protocol II (August 12, 1949) relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; International Convention on the Suppres-sion and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; International Convention Against Apartheid in Sport; and the Convention on the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities.

In addition, in 1984 the Chinese government also recognized 14 international labour conventions ratified by the Kuomintang government (1930-1947): the Convention Fixing the Minimum Age for Admission of Children to Employment at Sea; Right of Association (Agriculture) Convention, 1921; Weekly Rest (Industry) Convention, 1921; Convention Fixing the Minimum Age for the Admission of Young Persons to Employment as Trimmers or Stokers; Convention concerning the Compulsory Medical Examination of Children and Young Persons Employed at Sea; Convention on Equality of Treatment of Accident Compensation for Both Domestic and Foreign Workers; Convention Concerning Seamen’s Articles of Agreement; Convention concerning the Repatriation of Seafarers; Convention Concerning the Creation of Minimum Wage-Fixing Machinery; Convention Concerning the Marking of the Weight on Heavy Packages Transported by Vessels; Convention Concerning the Protection against Accidents of Workers Employed in Loading or Unloading Ships; Convention Concerning the Employment of Women on Underground Work in Mines of all Kinds; Convention Fixing the Minimum Age for the Admission of Children to Industrial Employment; and the Convention on the Amendment of Final Articles.

In the 1950s, China approved four international conventions in the field of human rights, namely the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea, Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War and Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

In the 1990s, China acceded to another four international human rights conventions, namely the Convention on Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value; Convention on the Rights of the Child; Employment Policy Convention; and Convention on Minimum Age for Employment. In addition, during President Jiang Zemin’s visit to the United States on October 28, 1997, China signed the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. On October 5, 1998, China signed the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, Chin has ratified eight international human rights conventions: the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Convention on the Rights of the Child, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict; Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography; Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour; Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel; Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, namely the Palermo Protocol.

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B. China’s cooperation with international institutions on human rights

The human rights treaty bodies were established on the basis of the provisions of the core human rights conventions and are comprised of independent experts who are responsible for monitoring the implementation of these conventions. As for the international human rights conventions China has acceded to, China attaches great importance to the concrete implementation of these treaty obligations, including writing performance reports, accepting the reviews of human rights treaty bodies on schedule, accepting constructive suggestions from the international community in a responsible and sincere manner, and constantly improving its performance in the field of human rights protection. As of August 2018, China had submitted 26 performance reports (39 reports in all) to treaty bodies and it was reviewed 26 times.16 Detailed information about the submission of performance reports and their reviews are shown in table 3.

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Over the past five years, China’s performance on human rights has been reviewed by different kinds of human rights treaty bodies. On September 27, 2013, China’s performance reports on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict were reviewed by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. On May 8, 2014, China accepted the review of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the second performance report on China’s implementation of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. On October 23, 2014, China’s seventh and eighth national reports of its implementations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women were reviewed by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. On November 17, 2015, China accepted the review of the sixth performance report of the UN Committee against Torture on its implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. On August 10, 2018, China’s fourteenth to seventeenth performance reports on its implementations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination were reviewed by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

In addition, China also actively recommends Chinese experts serve on international human rights treaty bodies. Since 1984, a succession of experts recommended by China has been elected members and alternate members of the United Nations Sub-commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. Since then, Chinese experts have served as the committee members of treaty bodies, such as the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee against Torture, and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. See table 4 for more details.

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C. China’s cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The World Conference on Human Rights was held in Vienna in 1993, whereupon the international community decided to establish a more robust human rights mandate with stronger institutional support. Accordingly, Member States of the United Nations created the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) by a General Assembly Resolution in 1993. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been very active and dynamic since its establishment and has played a critical role in the field of international human rights. By the end of 2018, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had set up offices in Burundi, Cambodia, Chad, Colombia, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, the republic of Korea, Mauritania, Mexico, Palestine, Tunisia, Uganda and Yemen. The United Nations Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa (based in Yaoundé) and the UN Human Rights Training Centre in Southwest Asia and the Arab Region was set in Qatar (based in Doha) by High Commissioners.18

China has been developing and maintaining good cooperative ties with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. In September 1998, the Chinese government invited United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Mary Roninson, to visit China, where both sides extensively exchanged their views on human rights and then signed the Memorandum of Cooperation on Technical Projects between China and the United States. Mary Robinson has visited China seven times during her tenure at the invitation of the Chinese government. China attaches great importance to its technical cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the OHCHR on technical cooperation in the field of human rights in November 2000, and signed the second-phase cooperation agreement in 2001. Under this framework, the two sides have carried out cooperation projects on misdemeanours, prison management, human rights education and scholarships. From August 29 to September 2, 2005, Louise Arbour, the high commissioner for human rights, visited China and signed another new Memorandum of Understanding with China, which established a framework for bilateral technical cooperation over the following three years. China actively supports the work of the OHCHR. In 2000 and 2005, China and OHCHR jointly held the 8th and 13th Asia-pacific Seminars on Human Rights. In 2009, China donated another $20,000 to OHCHR. Since then, the Chinese government has continued to support the OHCHR’s work with donations, increasing its annual donation from $20,000 to $50,000 since 2010. In 2011, China and OHCHR successfully cohosted the China-UN Legal Seminar. In 2017, China donated $100,000 to the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to development.

In November 2018, China’s head of delegation and Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Le Yucheng attended the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review at the UN, at which he said that China would give robust support to the work of UN human rights institutions. In addition, China has invited UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to visit China at a convenient time. In the next five years, China will donate $800,000 annually to the OHCHR19

D. Other Multilateral cooperation in human rights

In March 1993, Chinese delegates attended Asian Regional Preparatory Meeting for the World Conference on Human Rights in Bangkok, at which China served as the vice-president of the first preparatory meeting, Asian Regional Preparatory Meeting and the World Conference on Human Rights, playing a critical role in the preparing and successful staging of the World Conference on Human Rights. In June 1993, China’s delegates took an active part in and the discussions on drafting and formulation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action during the 2nd Word Conference on Human Rights, during which China put forward numerous constructive suggestions. During the conference, China stood firmly with the developing countries demonstrating a steadfast conviction to fighting for and safeguarding their rights and interests.

In September 1995, China successfully hosted the Fourth World Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing, making outstanding contributions to facilitating the realization of women’s rights. The fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing from September 4 to September 15, 1995, during which more than 17,000 representatives from 189 countries and regions, organizations and specialized agencies of the United Nations and relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations attended this conference. The conference reviewed and evaluated the implementation of the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women by the year 2000, formulated and adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action to accelerate the implementation of the Nairobi Strategies, identified major obstacles to the advancement of the status of women, and formulated future strategic objectives and specific action plans. The Beijing Declaration, themed as equality, peace and development, affirms the international community’s achievements in improving the status of women, points out the existing problems, and restates the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, mainly reflects such issues as poverty, health care, education, violence against women, which is concerned by people in the developing countries. China appeals for commitments and immediate actions from countries and the international community to accelerate the realization of all the goals listed in the Nairobi Strategies. At the same time, China also called for the mobilization of adequate resources at the national and international levels in order to fully implement the Platform for Action. Especially, additional funds to be allocated to the developing countries to improve the status of women.20 The Platform for Action, adopted by the conference, states that the advancement of women and the achievement of gender equality can pave way for human rights issues and social justice and should not be seen as a women’s issues in isolation. These factors are the only way to build a sustainable, fair and well-developed society. The empowerment of women and gender equality are prerequisites for the political, social, economic, cultural and environmental security of people in all countries.21

In addition, China also took an active part in the World Conference against Racism held in 2001. In 2000, Cuba and other developing countries initiated the plan of holding a world conference against racism, and the Chinese government gave highly complementary remarks about the proposal. The Chinese representatives contributed a lot to the preparation for the Asian Regional Preparatory Conference and attended the meeting in Teheran, Iran, from February 19 to 21, 2001. From August 31 to September 8, 2001, a delegation, led by vice foreign minister Wang Guangya, attended the third United Nations World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa. the Chinese government affirmed that “racism represents a severe violation of human rights, a contempt for equality and dignity of mankind, a challenge to global peace and development,” as Wang said in his keynote speech. China made the proposal that each country should “face up to history, enhance mutual understanding and strengthen cooperation”. What’s more, China still calls for the establishment of a fair and rational new international political order, and the eradication of racism and racial discrimination. Thanks to the joint efforts made by China and other developing countries, delegates from various countries at the conference finally adopted the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. It was acknowledged and documented for the first time in a UN declaration that slavery and the slave trade are “crimes against humanity”. In addition, the declaration urges countries concerned to make an in-depth apology and introspection for people once colonized by them and calls for mutual respect and peaceful coexistence in the international community.

III. China’s Bilateral Human Rights Dialogues and Exchanges

China has actively initiated international dialogues on human rights. Since the early 1990s, bilateral human rights dialogues have been held officially and successively with the United States, the European Union, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway and other Western countries and regional organizations. In 1990, China began a human rights dialogue with the United States, which was held twice a year. In 1995, China and Europe began their first human rights dialogue, which has been held every six months thereafter. In 1997, China and Australia began a dialogue on human rights. Since 1997, China has held human rights dialogues with the United Kingdom, twice a year. Apart from the human rights dialogue between China and the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom has also participated in the China-European human rights dialogue. In 1999, China and Germany began conducting an annual human rights dialogue. Despite bilateral agreements, human rights dialogues between China and Western countries have often been interrupted by emergencies. According to the agreement between China and the United States, human rights dialogue should be held twice a year, but from December 1990 to December 2002, only 13 rounds of bilateral human rights consultations were held, and were interrupted several times because of emergencies. So far, only 19 China-US human rights dialogues have been held in the past 29 years. The round table conference on bilateral human rights between China and Norway has been suspended since 2010 and never resumed. See Table 5 for relevant information.

In addition to the bilateral human rights dialogues it holds with Western developed countries, China has also begun holding official bilateral human rights consultations with developing countries and regional organizations, such as Russia, Brazil, Pakistan, South Africa, Cuba and the African Union in recent years. See Table 5 for relevant information.

These dialogues and consultations on human rights that China has participated in have yielded positive results and played their due roles. These achievements are mainly reflected in the following three aspects. First, these dialogues and consultations have increased mutual understanding, opened up channels of communication, reached an agreement with partners, thus reducing the impact of hearsay and conjecture to some extent. Second, they have contributed to the progress of human rights on both sides. Through face-to-face exchanges on the successful practices of human rights protection, the two sides could discuss the existing problems so as to learn from each other. Third, they have embodied China’s openness. However, as mentioned earlier, the human rights dialogue was not always smooth and successful, and the dialogues with the western developed countries were often accompanied by conflicts. Some Westerners with a Cold War mentality have made unrealistic demands during the dialogues and hope to use the dialogues as an opportunity to force China to follow their ideas and models, or even pressure China to change. China has always emphasized the principles of equality and mutual respect in the dialogues and strived to clarify the misunderstandings of the West. At the same time, China has firmly opposed the pressure other countries have attempted to apply and urged their state officials to correct their attitudes towards the dialogue, so they can have an objective view of the outcome of dialogues and China’s human rights situation.22

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IV. China’s Major Contributions to the International Human Rights

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China 70 years ago, it has made prominent contributions to the development of international human rights. Besides the important contributions in the practice of international human rights, such as actively participating in multilateral and bilateral cooperation in international human rights, earnestly fulfilling its treaty obligations and the responsibilities of member states, China’s contributions in the following areas have also been recognized.

A. Contributions to the creation of international human rights rules and mechanisms

In the 1980s, China began to participate in international human rights activities and repeatedly sent representatives to the drafting of international legal instruments on human rights. China has successively participated in optional protocols, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families, Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and in working groups, like Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belongs to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, thus contributing to the drafting, modification and improvement of these rules. At the meetings of these working groups, the opinions and amendments suggested by China have received great attention from all sides. Since 1981, as one of the main promoters, China has joined in all the sessions of the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on the Drafting of the Declaration on the Right to Development of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and actively presented suggestions until the declaration was adopted at the 41st session of General Assembly in 1986. China has also promoted the global consultation between the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Human Rights Council in terms of the realization of the right to development, committed to the establishment of a mechanism for the implementation of the right to development, and supported the consideration of the right to development as a separate issue in the Human Rights Committee. China has been a cosponsor of the resolution of the Human Rights Committee on the right to development.

In the early 1990s, China made major adjustments to its policies on human rights issues and began to actively participate in international human rights activities, increasing its influence in international human rights. Moreover, it has made important contributions to the formulation of international human rights standards. In June 1993, the representative of China attended the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights and the discussion, drafting and formulation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and put forward many constructive suggestions, thus great efforts and contributions were made to the formulation and adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. In September 1995, China successfully hosted the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women and made outstanding contributions to the formulation and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Programme of Action.

Since 2006, China has supported the establishment of special thematic mechanisms such as safe drinking water, cultural rights and the rights of persons with disabilities by the United Nations Human Rights Council, and advocated the special sessions on food security, the international financial crisis, etc., improving the international human rights mechanisms. At the end of 2009, the Chinese government sent a delegation to attend the first meeting of the working group on the formulation of an optional protocol to the communication and appeal mechanism of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which they made an extensive and in-depth discussion on various issues.24 In 2009, the Chinese delegation participated in the session of the Special Committee on Counter-Terrorism of the General Assembly contributing to the negotiations for the formulating of a comprehensive convention against international terrorism. To further improve the existing international legal framework against terrorism, China supported the formulation of a new comprehensive international convention against terrorism and the initiative of convening a high-level conference on counter-terrorism under the auspices of the United Nations in a timely manner so as to provide policy guidance for international legal cooperation against terrorism.25 China was also one of the first countries to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Moreover, China’s participation in the whole process effectively promoted international climate negotiations, making contributions to the final adoption of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. China also actively promoted the formulation and implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.26

B. China’s ideas into the international human rights discourse system

Recently, with China’s growing international influence, some important ideas advocated by China have been brought into the international human rights discourse.

First, the concept of building a community with a shared future for human beings advocated by China has become an important part of the international discourse on human rights. The United Nations Commission for Social Development at its 55th session on February 10, 2017 unanimously adopted the solution of a New Partnership for Africa’s Development in the Social Dimension, and the concept of building a community with a shared future for human beings was written into a United Nations resolution. On March 1, China issued a joint statement entitled “Promoting and Protecting Human Rights and Building a Community with a Shared Future for Human beings”, on behalf of 140 countries at the 34th meeting of the Human Rights Council, further explaining, in the international human rights arena, the concept and its significance for promoting the development of international human rights, which had widespread resonance among the international community. On March 23, among the numerous resolutions adopted at the 34th meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, two resolutions, “Realization of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in All Countries” and “Rights to Food” clearly included the concept of building a community with a shared future for human beings. The former resolution stated that “We must spare no efforts to promote democracy, strengthen the rule of law, realize peace and development and respect all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development; and believe that extensive and enduring efforts are needed to build a community with a shared future for human beings. The latter pointed out that “In order to realize the commitments of the international community, we must be resolved to take new steps to build a community with a shared future for human beings through strengthening international cooperation and solidarity and making unremitting efforts to achieve significant progress in the realization of food rights.”27 This was the first time that the idea of building a community with a shared future for human beings was included in a UN Human Rights Council resolution,28 in doing so it became a key concept in the international human rights system.

Second, the idea of the right to development put forward by China has been included in the international human rights discourse system. On June 22, 2017, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution proposed by China entitled “Development’s Contribution to the Enjoyment of All Human Rights”. The resolution, supported by a large number of developing countries and cosigned by more than 70 countries, reflected the appeals and aspirations of developing countries. It was the first time that a resolution on development issues had been adopted in the history of the Human Rights Council.29 The resolution clearly stated that the establishment of a community with a shared future for human beings was the common aspiration of the international community, and it confirmed the right to development is fundamental to the enjoyment of all human rights and called on all countries to pursue people-centered development, seeking development momentum among the people, relying on the people to promote development and ensure development benefits all people. The resolution appealed to all countries to strengthen their cooperation and to advance sustainable development, particularly to fulfill the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development so as to promote the full enjoyment of human rights. The resolution welcomed all countries to further advance development initiatives in order to improve partnerships and achieve win-win cooperation and mutual development.30

Third, the concept of promoting win-win cooperation in human rights advocated by China has become part of the international human rights discourse. On March 23, 2018, the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council adopted the resolution of “Promoting Win-win Cooperation in Human Rights” advocated by China. The resolution called on all countries to work together to build a new type of international relations featuring of mutual respect, fairness and justice and win-win cooperation, and to build a community with a shared future for human beings. It emphasized that all countries must adhere to multilateralism and strengthen dialogue and cooperation in human rights so as to achieve win-win cooperation. Ambassador Yu Jianhua, the Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations Office at Geneva and other international organizations in Switzerland, addressed at UN Human Rights Council, saying that, “We are in the era of globalization where win-win cooperation is needed. Achieving the lofty goal of enjoying human rights for all requires all countries to firmly embrace the concept of win-win cooperation, to conduct dialogue and cooperation in human rights, and to promote and protect human rights. In addition, win-win cooperation is the original aspiration of the United Nations; for example, the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and a series of resolutions of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council strongly all advocate cooperation and dialogue. The promotion of win-win cooperation in human rights can effectively advance the development of the international human rights and the establishment of a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings.”31

C. A high- end platform for human rights exchanges and cooperation among developing countries

On December 7-8, 2017, the State Council Information Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of People’s Republic of China jointly sponsored the first South-South Human Rights Forum in Beijing. More than 300 officials and scholars from over 70 countries and international organizations attended the forum, the size and standard were unprecedented for a human rights forum. Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter to this forum, and pointed out that, “The development of the global human rights needs the joint efforts of developing countries. I hope the international community will respect and reflect the will of people from developing countries in the spirit of justice, fairness, openness and inclusiveness so as to promote the full enjoyment of human rights to the people in developing countries and achieve the common prosperity and development”.32 With the theme of “Building a Community of Shared Future for Human Beings: New Opportunity for South-South Human Rights Development”, the forum had six subforums, which included “Building a Community with Shared Future for Human Beings and Promoting Global Human Rights Governance”, “Realization of Inclusive Development and Human Rights Under South-South Cooperation”, “Safeguarding of the Right to Education in Countries Under South-South Cooperation”, “Poverty Alleviation and the Safeguarding of the Right to Food in Countries Under South-South Cooperation”, “Realization of the Right to Health in Countries Under South-South Cooperation” and “China and South-South Cooperation: Key Role in Promoting Global Human Rights Development”. Consensuses were reached through participants’ in-depth discussions and exchanges on relevant issues, and finally the “Beijing Declaration” was formed by including these consensuses. “The South-South Human Rights Forum” hosted by China is a new platform for exchanges and cooperation in human rights among developing countries, which is not only beneficial to expand the South-South cooperation, but also important for enhancing the participation of developing countries in global human rights governance and strengthening the voices of developing countries on human rights.

(Translated by CHEN Peiyao & LI Man)
 

* LUO Yanhua ( 罗艳华 ), Professor of the School of International Studies, Peking University.

1.Information Office of the State Council, The Situation of Human Rights in China (Beijing: Central Party Liter-ature Press, 1991), 65.

2.Chen Shiqiu, “30 Years of China’s Active Participation in International Human Rights Activities”, China human rights network, accessed May 1, 2019, http: //www.humanrights.cn/html/2014/3_0610/295.html.

3.Ibid.

4.Li Junru and others, “The Historical Achievement and Progress of China’s Human Rights”, in Development Report of the Cause of China’s Human Rights 1 (2011) (Beijing: Social Science and Academic Press, 2011), 34-36.

5.Dong Yunhu, “An Important Milestone in the Development History of China’s Human Rights — ‘The Human Rights Situations in China’ Review of the 10th Anniversary of the Release of White Paper”, Human Rights 1 (2002).

6.“Zhu Muzhi and the White Paper of the Human Rights in China in 1991,” NetEase News, accessed April 20, 2019, https: news.163.com/15/1105/18/B7M68D3KOOO14AEE.html.

7.“1991: The Human Rights Situations in China,” The Information Office of the State Council, accessed April 3, 2019, http://www.scio.gov.cn/xtk/dtxt/2014/31553/31561/Document/1381043.html.

8.Ma Xing, “The Perception of the United States and Britain: The Milestone Significance of the Inclusion of Human Rights in the Constitution”, CRI Online, accessed May 4, 2019, http://gb.chinabroadcast. cn/321/2004/03/15/145@96776.html.

9.“The Speech of President Xi Jinping in Moscow Institute of International Relations,” Chinese Government Network, accessed March 5, 2019, http://.gov.cn/Idhd/2013 03/24/content_2360829.html.

10.“The Report of General Secretary-Addendum1- Human Rights Council,” UN website, accessed July 1, 2018, http://www.un.org/chinese/large freedom/add1.html.

11.“The Outcome Document of the World Summit,” Website of Chinese Mission in Europe, accessed July 13, 2018, http://www.chinesemission vienna.at/chn/lhgyl/t227151.html.

12.Human Rights Institutions, UN website, accessed July 1, 2018, http://ohchr.org/CH/HRBodies/pages/HumanRightsBodies.aspx.

13.Special Procedures of Countries Visited, UN website, accessed July 5, 2018, http://spinternet.ohchr.org/_Layouts/SpecialProceduresInternet/ViewCountryVisits.aspx?Lang=zh&country=CHN

14.Li Junru and others, “The Historical Achievement and Progress of China’s Human Rights”, 34-36.

15. Ibid.      

16.“Development and Progress of China’s Human Rights Cause in the Past 40 Years of Reform and Opening-up”, Information Office of the State Council, accessed May 2, 2019, http://www,scio.gov.cn/zfbps/32832/ Document/1643346/1643346.html.

17.Information of the article was collected from the official website of the UN human rights treaty bodies before December 31, 2018. Membership of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, http://www. ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CESCR/Paes/Membership.Aspx; Membership of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CERD/Pages/Membership.aspx; Membership of the Committee on the Elimination of Discamination against Women, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/ CEDAW/Pages/Membeahip.acpx; Membeship of the Committee against Torture, http://www.ohchr.org//EN/ HRBodies/CAT/Paees/Membeship,aspx; Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, http://www. ohchr.org//ch/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/Membership.aspx.

18.“OHCHR in the World: making human rights a reality on the ground,” UN website, accessed May 2, 2019, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/Pages/WorkInField.aspx.

19.“China’s Commitment to a Human Rights Development Path with Chinese Characteristics and the Opening of a New Chapter of China’s Human Rights Endeavor,” Chinese Foreign Ministry website, accessed June 1, 2019,
https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/ziliao_674904/zyjh_674906/t1610915.shtml.

20.“UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women,” Website of the Working Committee on Women and Children of the State Council, accessed April 2, 2019, http://www.chinacommercialoffice.org/web/ziliao_674904/ wjs_674919/2159_674923/t8963.shtml.

21.“The Platform for Action adopted by UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women,” National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council, accessed April 2, 2019, http://www.nwccw.gov. cn/2017-05/23/content_157555.html.

22.“Chinese Foreign Ministry Officials Talk about the Fruits and Obstacles of Human Rights Dialogue Between China and the West,” China News Service, accessed March 1, 2019, http://www.chinanews.com/gn/2012/01-19/3617751.shtml.

23.The data connection was made based on the relevant information posted on the official website of Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

24.“Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the UN, Statement by Deputy Counselor Zhang Dan of the Chinese Delegation at the Third Committee of the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly on the Implementation of the Human Rights Instrument (Item 68A),” China United Nations Association website, accessed May 2, 2019, http://www.china-un.org/chn/hyyfy/t762570.html.

25.“Annual Report on the Construction of the Rule of Law in China (2009),” The People’s Network, accessed April 5, 2019, http://ip.peop1e.com.cn/GB/139288/11922739.html.

26.“The White Paper of Development and Progress of China’s Human Rights in the Past 40 Years of Reform and Opening-up,” the State Council Information Office, accessed May 1, 2019, http://www.scio.gov.cn/zfb-ps/32832IDocument/1643346/1643346.html.

27.OHCHR I Session 34 Resolutions, Decisions and President’s Statements, Document number of economic, social and cultural rights 34/4, Document number of the resolution on the right to food 34/12, accessed May 3, 2019, .

28.“The Idea of “A Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings” Was First Included in the UN Human Rights Council Resolution,” the People’s Network, accessed March 1, 2019, http://world.people.com.cn/nl/2017/0325/c1002-29168281.html.

29.“The Human Rights Council Adopted the Resolution ‘Development’s Contribution to the Enjoyment of All Human Rights’ Proposed by China, and the Concept of ‘Development for Human Rights’ Was First Introduced into the International Human Rights,” Website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accessed May 3, 2019, http://www.fmpre.gov.cn/ce/cegv/chn/dbtzyhd/tl1473892.html.

30.“For the first time in the history of the UN Human Rights Council, the resolution on the promotion of human rights,” Chinese government network, accessed May 1, 2019, http://www.gov.cn/xinwen/2017-06/23/con-tent_28096943.html.

31.“UN Human Rights Council Adopted a Resolution and Called for ‘Two Builds’,” Kwangmyong Net, accessed March 1, 2019, http://news.gmw.cn/2018-03/25/content_28096943,html .

32.“President Xi Jinping’s Congratulatory Letter to the First ‘South-South Human Rights Forum’,” Xinhua net-work, accessed March 2, 2019, http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2017-12/07/c_1122073544.html.
 

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