The Generating of Attention, 1976–1989

Rosemary Foot

in Rights Beyond Borders

Published in print September 2000 | ISBN: 9780198297765
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599279 | DOI:
The Generating of Attention, 1976–1989

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Over the 1976–1989 period of the Chinese leadership's exposure to the human rights regime, it received decidedly mixed signals about the levels of compliance required, suggesting certain trends but no clear conclusions about the strength of the obligations that would be incurred through participation. First, governments would often treat with leniency or understanding certain states with human rights records that deserved close scrutiny, such as China; second, the power of various subnational and transnational groups to generate global attention to human rights abuses inside China was growing, indicating to the Chinese government that its international political environment in this issue area was capable of undergoing significant change. Moreover, the forms of domestic unrest in China towards the end of the 1980s, together with the nature of the internal debate about the future of its political system, demonstrated the indivisibility of the external and internal spheres and that actors in both domains could work together to promote similar objectives. Thus, at this point, Beijing had discovered that, while greater global involvement could bring rich rewards, it could also reduce a government's ability to maintain control over both domestic and external realms. Information about the abuse of human rights in China became available in a halting fashion over this period from 1976 to 1989, and the global response was inconsistent, with the dominant reaction among governments being to offer understanding and suggest caution. This was based on various factors: strategic interest, the potentially promising socio‐economic changes inside China, Beijing's more cooperative stance in a number of major policy arenas, the fact that the external behaviour and public statements of the Chinese authorities themselves evinced a willingness to explore the area of human rights, and Beijing's participation in human rights bodies and signature of some of the international conventions. The different sections of the chapter are: Catalysts in the Mid to Late 1970s; Explaining Government Passivity; Washington's Leading Role: US Bureaucratic Rivalry and Institutional Constraint, 1979–1987; The Sharpening of Attention: 1987–1989; China's Response; and Conclusion.

Keywords: China; compliance; domestic unrest; global attention; global response; human rights; human rights abuses; human rights regime; internal debate; international conventions

Chapter.  13681 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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