China to Open Human-Rights Door Chinese Legal Scholars from a Government Academy Plan to Study Basic Liberties in the US and Canada
James L. Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
FOR a regime that considers "human rights" an incendiary slogan, China's leadership has lately shown a peculiar willingness to take up the concept.
Scholars from a leading government think tank plan this fall to investigate human-rights theory and its application in the United States and Canada.
The field research by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) is the latest sign of a new readiness by China to discuss basic liberties with foreign countries. The academy advises the State Council, China's cabinet.
China's leaders, who are embroiled in what they consider to be a dire "ideological struggle" against democratic countries, support the research as a form of "intelligence gathering" within the enemy camp, say Chinese sources.
Despite its militant motive, the hands-on investigation will introduce some of China's most influential scholars to persuasive liberal values, say Western scholars and diplomats.
"From a cultural, political, and philosophical point of view, the trip would be a breakthrough," says Andrew Nathan, a professor of political science at Columbia University in New York City.
The mission by the scholars "will involve them more deeply in dialogue and lead them into having a better understanding of the rationale behind human rights," says Dr. Nathan, who is a China specialist.
For many years, China held very limited discussions on human-rights theory and refused to talk about the state of fundamental freedoms at home. The government categorically denounced all foreign concern over the topic as interference in its internal affairs.
But last December, Chinese officials met with a top US diplomat in an unprecedented, detailed discussion with the communist government over human-rights abuses in China. Beijing has since approved visits by investigative teams on human rights from several countries. (See article at left for details.)
Western scholars and diplomats say the visit by the academy does not signal a turnaround in the hostile official view toward basic freedoms.
Beijing continues to accuse foreigners of attempting to use the "bourgeois" concept of human rights as an ideological crowbar for prying China away from socialism and one-party rule.
Further still, China has not improved its widespread and flagrant disregard for due process and the right to free speech, political association, and other civil liberties, these observers say.
Rather, Beijing has recently picked up the ticklish issue of liberal freedoms in a superficial gesture aimed at appeasing its foreign critics, say the diplomats and scholars.
"The Chinese government is feeling a great deal of international pressure" over its violations of human rights since the massacre of liberal activists in June 1989, according to Nathan.
Beijing "must respond (to the censure) because it is more integrated in the world economy than ever before," he says.
Beijing's conciliatory response apparently conceals a combative motive.
China's autocrats have ordered research into the concept of human rights as a way to arm China's communist theorists for ideological battle against democratic countries, say Chinese sources. …