Every once in a while Chinese officials - and some Chinese people - make statements that betray a deep- seated xenophobia, a fear or even hatred of foreigners. On one level, this is easily understandable. China was the victim of western - and Japanese - aggression for over a century, and the country was turned into a semi-colony and carved up like a watermelon into spheres of influence. It is understandable, therefore, that many Chinese find it offensive when western countries criticise China today on human rights grounds when those nations showed little or no consideration for the human rights of Chinese in the 19th and 20th centuries. And it is also true that the human rights situation has improved greatly since the time of Mao Zedong . Thus, for example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - which China has signed on to - says: 'Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.' This was not always the case in China: in fact, a law to protect private property was only enacted this year. In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry, quite understandably, recites the party line that China does not need any pressure from other countries over human rights and warns that anyone who tries to exert pressure with the help of external forces is bound to fail. Yet, it is a fact that people like exiled activist Wei Jingsheng , astrophysicist Fang Lizhi and student leader Wang Dan are at liberty today precisely because of pressure from the United States. A few days ago, Tsang Hin-chi, a Hong Kong member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, called Martin Lee Chu-ming a 'traitor' for urging the US to use the Beijing Olympics to engage China on its human rights record. However, Beijing has voluntarily subscribed to many human rights conventions. These are agreements made not with other Chinese but with foreign governments. What's wrong with foreigners being concerned about whether China is living up to its commitments? As far as the Olympics goes, in order to win the right to host the Games in 2008, Beijing made pledges to the International Olympic Committee - an organisation dominated by foreigners. It said it would allow journalists to operate freely in China and improve the human rights situation in the country. These are promises that the Chinese government made to foreigners. So why is it that foreigners should not take an interest in whether China is keeping its promises? Why is it that otherwise intelligent, well-educated people become so emotional over this issue? After all, this is not the 19th century, when the west forced China's door open. This time, under Deng Xiaoping , China voluntarily opened its door to welcome in foreigners. By posing the issue in this fashion, it is obvious that there is little merit in the argument that foreigners and foreign governments have no business in trying to improve the human rights situation in China. In fact, China now publishes an annual report on the human rights situation in the US. If it is wrong in principle to put pressure on other countries in this way, then surely China would not be party to any such wrongdoing. Indeed, more than half a century after Mao proclaimed that 'the Chinese people have stood up', it is time for Beijing - and all Chinese people - to accept that China has to behave like a respected and respectable member of the world community and honour its commitments on human rights. The successful launch of a lunar orbiter by China last week, on top of three decades of economic development, should strengthen the country's sense of confidence. There should be no need to hide behind such concepts as 'foreign interference' to prevent its human rights record from being subjected to the full glare of public scrutiny - both within the country and abroad. Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator.