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China in preparation for the High Commissioner's upcoming visit

June 23, 1998

A report - From principle to pragmatism: Can dialogue' improve China's human rights situation? by Human Rights in China

Nine years after the brutal suppression of the 1989 Democracy Movement, international efforts to press the Chinese government to improve its human rights practices are moving behind closed doors, as quiet diplomacy replaces multilateral pressure. President Clinton's forthcoming visit to China is the culmination of this shift towards "engagement."

Through intense and skillful lobbying, Beijing has succeeded in persuading those governments which have supported multilateral pressure in the past to focus on bilateral dialogues instead. China's dialogue partners are now claiming that diplomatic exchanges combined with cooperation programs are more effective ways of achieving progress on rights in the People's Republic of China.

Human Rights in China is not opposed to bilateral dialogue on human rights matters, or cooperation programs aimed at achieving improvements in human rights. However, the central question this report raises is whether bilateral dialogues should be an alternative to multilateral pressure.

Human Rights in China believes that Beijing has not made sufficient progress to justify the dropping of multilateral measures, as concessions so far have been more symbol than substance. HRIC also thinks that reducing human rights to "differences" between countries - as is often done in bilateral dialogues - serves to undermine the authority of international standards. Furthermore, some of the people in China most concerned about human rights are completely excluded from there "dialogues," which all too often are conducted on China's terms.

"The Chinese government should be encouraged to engage in dialogue domestically, rather than only internationally, and to take into account the views and interests of all sectors of the society," said Xiao Qiang, HRIC's Executive Director. "A bilateral dialogue that only promotes cosmetic changes is not acceptable. In order to be meaningful and truly effective, it should address the substantive issues in China's human rights situation and establish clear benchmarks for the assessment of progress."

"From principle to pragmatism: Can dialogue' improve China's human rights situation?" presents an assessment of the bilateral dialogues between China and Australia, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Norway and Sweden. It also provides a critique of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention's 1997 visit to China, since this illustrates some of HRIC's concerns about the methods and form of the current approaches to China's human rights situation. The report raises a series of questions and concerns so as to encourage an increase in transparency and accountability in the conduct of bilateral dialogues. Human Rights in China believes that only dialogue based firmly on the universal and indivisible character of human rights can achieve real improvements in rights protections in the People's Republic of China.

[NOTE: This entire report is available on "Report" session at our wedsite.]