From Public Exposure to Private Dialogue, 1995–1998

Rosemary Foot

in Rights Beyond Borders

Published in print September 2000 | ISBN: 9780198297765
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599279 | DOI:
From Public Exposure to Private Dialogue, 1995–1998

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Over the period 1995–1998, China's main objectives in the human rights area was to shift the venue of the discursive debate on its record away from a public, multilateral forum in which China was placed under critical scrutiny, to a private dialogue that symbolized a more equal exchange of views on such questions. Beijing also attempted to constrain the operations of the UN Commission, its Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups, by stressing their failure to deal with lapses in the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights, and their overweening focus on developing country behaviour; it also alleged that the Commission's approach was unacceptably confrontational and unlikely to reach the targets that it set itself. Possibly in response to this critique, new UN Special Rapporteurs were created and the High Commissioner for Human Rights deemed it necessary to give more priority to the right to development. In the course of moving towards bilateral dialogues, it became apparent that there were areas of softness in some governments’ commitment to the universalism of human rights and that ambiguities inherent in the language surrounding these rights could be exploited, suggesting considerable room for manoeuvre within the international human rights regime when it came to verbal compliance. Here Chinese leaders played their hand carefully and with considerable skill, timing statements, agreements, and releases to coincide with debate at the UN Commission, thus breaking apart the coalition of governments that had been working together. Nevertheless, Beijing did see the need to sign the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) to ward off some of the criticism and ensure a productive summit in the USA between President Jiang Zemin and President Bill Clinton. China's success in persuading some Western leaders to adopt particular features of the cultural relativist–developmentalist rhetoric in joint statements can be explained by economic and strategic interests of these governments, together with a more generalized EU belief that it had to raise its profile in China, while other states found convincing Chinese official arguments that it was deserving of special consideration. The different sections of the chapter are: The Fracturing of the UN Coalition; The Resurgence of Bilateralism; The Clinton–Jiang Summit; The UN's Thematic Mechanisms; and Conclusion.

Keywords: bilateral dialogues; bilateralism; China; Clinton; fracturing of the UN coalition; human rights; human rights regime; ICESCR; Jiang; private dialogue; public exposure; UN Commission; UN Special Rapporteurs; universalism of human rights; Western governments

Chapter.  16243 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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