Beijing needs to catch up on promoting human rights

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 November, 2013, 12:34am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 November, 2013, 8:51am

China's commitment to human rights is arguably no different from other nations', at least in writing. In its recent report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, it renewed pledges to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, establish a robust system of safeguards and maintain dialogue with foreign countries. What makes the difference is the practice. China says it is developing human rights within the framework of socialism with Chinese characteristics, yet this means the outcome can be very different - so much so that it may fall short of international standards. While progress has been made in recent years, a lot more needs to be done.

This is the second time Beijing has allowed peers to openly scrutinise its human rights record. The report covers developments since the first such report, in 2009. It is good that the periodic reporting is being taken seriously by the new government led by President Xi Jinping . The commitment is in line with international expectations of a rising world power.

The head of the Chinese delegation, Wu Hailong, appeared excessively complacent when told the council's Geneva session that the recommendations from four years ago had either been implemented or were being carried out. His words were hardly a surprise, as all signatories to international covenants tend to paint a rosy picture to the scrutinising authorities.

China has reasons to be proud of what it has achieved for its 1.3 billion population. Its robust economic growth is envied by the world. It created new jobs for 58.7 million urban dwellers across the country between 2008 and 2012. The number of recipients under the poverty relief scheme eased from 122.4 million in 2011 to 99 million last year, according to the report. These are significant achievements.

But human rights goes beyond access to a decent living. It is regrettable that the protection of civil and political rights still leaves a lot to be desired. Even the official report acknowledges that injustices still exist in the judicial sphere, while law enforcement officials also need to show more respect for the law. Some activists have expressed fears that the crackdown on online dissent by the new leadership is a step backwards.

No nation can claim a perfect record on human rights; China is no exception. It should continue to open itself to international scrutiny. Despite some progress on the socio-economic front, China still has a long way to catch up.