October 22, 2008
This post will no doubt attract adverse comment, and not for the first time will I be called a China apologist.
It is time that Europe takes stock of the work it has done to promote human rights and its effectiveness.
My approach is predicated on two deeply held beliefs. First, human rights may have a universal definition, but this was agreed in 1948 by less than 60 countries, one only of which came from Africa. Their implementation must reflect the current and local context. Second, publicly chastising other countries for their human rights failures is usually counter-productive.
European – and indeed Western – influence over human rights is waning. This is for a number of reasons, not least of which is our hypocrisy and loss of moral leadership: Guantanamo Bay, Abu Grabi, CIA overflights, torture, pressure on China and some countries, but not the same pressure on Saudi Arabia and other countries.
My expertise is China. I deeply believe that improving the protection of human rights is in the country’s own interests. Greater freedom of expression would help China in several respects. It would help innovation – a Chinese priority, but which needs freedom of expression to create the right conditions. It would facilitate the role of the media and NGOs as potential allies of government and consumer to expose product failings eg food. Both are potentially important in the fight against corruption.
China’s Olympic Games triumph was pointlessly marred by the imprisonment of two septuagenarian women who wanted peacefully to protest against their receiving inadequate land compensation. Such excessive behaviour is not in Chinese interests, nor are individual punishments disproportionate to the offence alleged.
China and other countries are far less likely to respond positively to public denunciations than to arguments as to why human rights observance is in their interests.Author : Stanley Crossick