Rights beyond Borders: The Global Community and the Struggle over Human Rights in China

By Rosemary Foot | Go to book overview

1 Introduction

In conversation with a British foreign office official, I asked him whether he could make an interest-based argument to explain his government's attention to China's human rights record in its external relationship with the country. He replied that he could not, except if one looked—uncharacteristically for policy-makers—to the long term, when an improved level of protection might signal Chinese adherence to a set of values more compatible with those operating in the West. In the short term, he thought, regular reference to human rights conditions in China complicated the practice of diplomacy. Yet, he added, the issue could not be avoided, not as a result of ministerial dictat or with reference solely to a recent, more strongly articulated commitment to an ethical foreign policy, but because the issue area had become central in international diplomacy, and particularly so in the case of the global community's relationship with China. 1

This book accepts that description of present reality, traces how and why that reality has come about, and shows how the normative concern for human rights has influenced the behaviour of key actors within the global system. By key actors, I am referring to selected non-governmental organizations (NGOs), some national governments, and the United Nations' human rights institutions. The latter have been crucial to the elaboration and legitimation of human rights norms, and in providing a platform upon which governmental and NGO criticisms of abuse can be aired; the NGOs themselves have drawn attention to and provided alternative sources of information about norm violation and compliance. The state, however, has played a vital role in carrying the message forward. It is the body that signs the convention and then produces the requisite domestic legislation. Operating externally, the state may create new

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Rights beyond Borders: The Global Community and the Struggle over Human Rights in China
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Rights Beyond Borders iii
  • Acknowledgements vi
  • Contents ix
  • Abbreviations x
  • 1: Introduction 1
  • Part One the Setting 27
  • 2: The Evolution of the Global Human Rights Regime 29
  • 3: The Global Consequences of China's Economic Reforms 60
  • Part Two the Process 81
  • 4: The Generating of Attention, 1976-1989 83
  • 5: Tiananmen and Its Aftermath, June 1989-November 1991 113
  • 6: The Shift to Multilateral Venues, 1992-1995 150
  • 7: From Public Exposure to Private Dialogue, 1995-1998 190
  • 8: Betting on the Long Term, 1998-1999 224
  • 9: Conclusion 251
  • Bibliography 274
  • Index 291
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