China, the United Nations, and Human Rights: The Limits of Compliance

China, the United Nations, and Human Rights: The Limits of Compliance

China, the United Nations, and Human Rights: The Limits of Compliance

China, the United Nations, and Human Rights: The Limits of Compliance


Nelson Mandela once said, "human rights have become the focal point of international relations". This has certainly become true in American relations with the People's Republic of China. Since the early 1980s, and particularly since 1989, by means of vigorous monitoring and the strict maintenance of standards, United Nations human rights organizations have encouraged China to move away from its insistence on the principle of noninterference, to take part in resolutions critical of human rights conditions in other nations, and to accept the applicability to itself of human rights norms and UN procedures. Even though China has continued to suppress political dissidents at home, and appears at times resolutely defiant of outside pressure to reform, Ann Kent argues that it has gradually begun to implement some international human rights standards.

The book explores China's evolving human rights policies and the PRC's interaction over time with UN human rights bodies. Kent's book documents China's compliance with the norms and rules of international treaties, and serves as a case study of the effectiveness of the international human rights regime, that network of international consensual agreements concerning acceptable treatment of individuals at the hands of nation-states.


In the turbulence of the post–Cold War era, scholarly interest has begun to focus on three issues in the fields of international law, international relations, and human rights. the first is the general question of states’ compliance with international treaty obligations. the second is the specific matter of China’s compliance with these obligations, its gradual socialization through interaction with treaty bodies, and its preparedness to moderate its urge to independence in response to the contemporary pressures for political and economic interdependence. the third is the question of the effectiveness of the United Nations human rights system in monitoring the implementation of treaty obligations by states and, particularly, by China.

In this book I address these three issues—compliance, socialization, and effectiveness—within the context of China’s interaction with the un human rights regime. I study the vexed question of China’s readiness, or ability, to comply with international norms by focusing on its relationship with the multilateral human rights bodies of the United Nations and, to a lesser extent, with the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that participate in their deliberations. Where compliance is manifested, I ask the basic questions of China’s socialization and learning—to what extent it absorbs the norms of the regime and to what extent it merely adapts itself instrumentally. Where compliance is not indicated, I ask to what extent China is seeking to reshape existing international norms and to what extent it is seeking to bypass or even negate them. Finally, I attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of un bodies in monitoring China. in so doing I join the current move in regime analysis away from preoccupation with regime formation to understanding how regimes affect state behavior and collective outcomes in international society.

China’s attitude toward global interdependence has been a source of controversy since the beginning of the Cold War, particularly during the period of the Cultural Revolution (1965–76), when its failure to respect international standards of behavior was cited as a principal reason for voting . . .

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