The struggle over China’s human rights record

“Things have changed so much!” said Ms. Fu Ying, Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, as she addressed a crowd in Hong Kong at an event sponsored by the Better Hong Kong Foundation this week. The vast improvements in China’s human rights record was a theme that ran throughout her speech.

She said that China was “prosperous, stable, and successful” and implied that it was unique in that position globally. “You look around in the world, which country can use these three adjectives at the same time?” This economic preeminence, said, Ms. Fu, was proof enough that China has made progress in terms of human rights.

“This topic is so difficult!” Ms. Fu continued. It has strained relationships with the West, she said.

“In our debate with many Western countries, the concept is narrowed. Down, down, down, down. To one thing. That is the right to topple the Chinese government. The right to change the political system in China. In the end, the debate has come down to that point.” But, she said, “the law is against that. There is a law and a rule against that.”

What is rankling the debate, Ms. Fu asserted, is the differing conceptions of human rights — China is taking a broader view, she believes, while the West is only pointing to the right to elect a government.

It’s enlightening to hear a Chinese official defend the country’s record on human rights — her voice radiated the frustration her administration feels that despite all of China’s improvements and economic success, the West keeps focusing on its human rights violations.

When we speak in generalities about human rights, it’s easy to become swayed by China’s insistence that it is improving and that the West should not treat it like a “little brother,” in Ms. Fu’s words. But when one looks at the specifics — like China’s failure to stem the increase in lead poisoning cases and its cover-up of the issue — it becomes harder to ignore the human rights debate and leave it to the Chinese to sort out, as Ms. Fu seems to prefer.

About emilyfro

Emily Frost is a radio reporter and online journalist. She is an Annenberg Fellow at USC’s Annenberg Graduate School for Journalism and a producer at Annenberg Radio News.
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