During the 1970s—a time when the Beijing government was becoming more active internationally—the human rights regime reached a major turning point. In 1976 the two international human rights covenants, first introduced in 1966, came into force. A Human Rights Committee, established under the ICCPR and with the remit to consider reports from states that were parties to the covenant, placed an important piece of cement in the great wall of implementation that still awaits completion. 1 Certain democratic states, most notably the USA, but also a number of West European and Scandinavian countries, explicitly introduced human rights concerns into their foreign policies, developments that in the latter cases also affected the external relations of the European Community (EC). NGO capacities in this issue area also expanded rapidly alongside these increased opportunities for lobbying governments newly committed to protecting human rights. UN institutions similarly developed new procedures and mechanisms for monitoring abuses, thus signalling a willingness to take more seriously their responsibilities for stopping violations wherever they might occur.
Matters were not to stand still after these innovations. A further deepening and widening of human rights activity occurred in the post-cold-war era with such decisions as the appointment of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, further expansion in the numbers of states claiming democratic status, and the more explicit linking of human rights and democratic governance criteria in the allocation of economic assistance. When the Chinese government began its final debate on whether to sign the two major international covenants, it must have been