China's human rights development: Actions speak louder than words
Jia Wenshan

Editor's note: Jia Wenshan is a professor at the School of Communication of Chapman University and a research fellow at the National Academy for Development & Strategy of Renmin University of China. The article reflects the author's opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

On March 13, the United States issued the "2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices." It has probably been the least legitimate and least effective one of all the 43 annual human rights reports the U.S. had issued as the country under President Donald Trump in 2018 saw one of the worst records of human rights violations in modern American history.

Half a dozen countries, including Russia and Iran, have already dismissed the document, citing the U.S.' prejudices and pointing out its own violations of human rights in the year. China issued the "Human Rights Record of the U.S. in 2018" as a response on March 14.

If the human rights record of the U.S. in 2017, the first year of the Trump presidency, is said to have deteriorated significantly both domestically and globally, it has become glaringly much worse in 2018, according to Amnesty International. 

Aside from the list of human rights violations charged against the U.S. by global NGOs and states, the following are also of grave concern in terms of human rights. The Trump administration's trade war with China, for example, has knocked off many American farmers' trading opportunities with China and severely undermined their economic development rights.

Still worse was the Trump administration's repeated illegal use of long-arm jurisdiction against several Chinese citizens such as Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei. This kind of malpractice is equivalent to a colonialist or imperialistic practice, violating both the individual rights of Chinese nationals and the sovereign rights of China.

Worst of all, President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in 2018, a sign that the U.S. under Trump is no longer interested in pursuing human rights as a pillar of its political foundation. Instead, it would seek wealth and power as its top priorities in order to achieve the "Make America Great Again" goal.

Racial inequality has worsened across the U.S. as Trump continued to condone and even encourage the spread of white nationalism/supremacy, turning racial minorities into second-class citizens.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar speaks during a rally before the March for Truth in protest of President Donald Trump's proposed border wall in El Paso, Texas, February 11, 2019. /VCG Photo

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar speaks during a rally before the March for Truth in protest of President Donald Trump's proposed border wall in El Paso, Texas, February 11, 2019. /VCG Photo

Such a record of rampant violations of human rights in the U.S. and beyond removes the legitimacy of the U.S. as a global human rights police and undermines the credibility of its reports.

There are specific reasons for its loss of credibility. The U.S. has never reported on its own human rights record in its annual report. Such an exception not only created resentment against the U.S. by the countries it criticized, but also condoned and covered up the human rights violations by the U.S. itself. The deterioration of human rights in the U.S. is significantly attributed to it turning a blind eye to its own human rights situations.

The annual reports highlight the countries that the U.S. views as strategic rivals, but hide human rights violations of its close allies, which means the content of the reports is selective. For example, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly ordered by Riyadh, a close ally of Washington, has not been covered in this year's annual report. Instead, Russia, Iran, and China have been highlighted in the report according to "ideological lines," and even geopolitical lines.

All such practices suggest that human rights have been abused as a political weapon by the U.S. to advance its diplomatic and strategic gains rather than being maintained and promoted as a global public good. The weaponization of human rights has been an unfortunate trend that needs to be guarded against and curtailed.

Compared with the U.S., China has put the promotion of human rights development as a top priority during the past several decades. In 1971, China affirmed the UN Charter and UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights by joining the UN as a member state. In 1998, China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In 2013, China joined the UN Human Rights Council. During this entire process, China has been quietly learning from, actively interacting with, and joining the UN Human Rights system as a contributing partner.

Among other human rights achievements in this period, China lifted 700 million people out of poverty, a remarkable record in the entire global history of human rights development. Such a success is largely attributed to the Chinese government's strategy to focus on the development of the economic, social, and cultural rights of its citizens.

An overview of Beijing /VCG Photo

An overview of Beijing /VCG Photo

As a highlight of its report on China, the U.S., harboring deep prejudice against China, largely misinterpreted the anti-separatist and de-radicalization education programs in Xinjiang as a human rights violation. In fact, such training programs were implemented by the government of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to prevent pro-independence terrorist attacks from occurring.

Human rights are universal rights that need to be upheld as a common ideal for all peoples, nations, and civilizations on earth. China has set the goal of resolving the contradiction between the demands of the people for a high quality of life and the regional disparity in economic and social development as the major goal to achieve at the 19th CPC National Congress held in 2017. This is another human rights development goal China is endeavoring to meet. And it signals a new focus on the development of its citizens' personal rights and freedoms while further solidifying the development of their economic, social, and cultural rights.

With a record of blatant human rights violations, accompanied by its withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, especially with a goal to dismantle the UN human rights system and put human rights on the back burner way behind its national interest, the U.S. is rated less favorably at an approval rate of 31 percent according to a recent opinion poll by Gallup. This may also mean that the U.S. is less likely to be viewed as a leader in advancing human rights. However, China's approval rating is up, at 34 percent, according to the same poll.

The transnational expansion of the benefits of human rights development in the form of infrastructure construction engineered by the Belt and Road Initiative, and commitment to the construction of a community with shared future for mankind can be added to China's tangible achievements in human rights development.

China may be emerging as a new type of leader in human rights development, with more actions than words, driven by results than ideals.

(Cover photo: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks on the release of the 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in the press briefing room of the State Department in Washington, DC, March 13, 2019. /VCG Photo)

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