Last week, the Information Office of the State Council, or China’s Cabinet, issued a white paper on “Progress in China’s Human Rights in 2012”[i] as a part of its propaganda activity for the upcoming Universal Periodic Review later this year. Unsurprisingly, the white paper praised Chinese progress in human rights—pointing almost exclusively to the benefits of China’s continued economic development. However, behind the self-congratulatory praise and statistics lie China’s underlying philosophy of human rights, which fundamentally misunderstands the international human rights system. China’s white paper is oblivious to the indivisible and universal nature of human rights, and that guaranteeing human rights requires action and not just mere hollow proclamations.
According to the white paper, human rights are divisible and unrelated by treating economic development and the corresponding rights as supreme. The first section of the white paper concerns “Human Rights in Economic Construction” and states that, “it would be impossible to protect people’s rights and interests without first developing the economy to feed and clothe the people.” Rhetoric from China concerning the importance of economic development before even addressing civil and political rights is not new. During the Cold War both capitalist and communist states frequently advocated for either civil and political right or economic, social and cultural rights and ignored the other. This division was a political tool and never accurately described the international human rights system or the philosophy of human rights. [Continue reading]