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The Uncomfortable Truth on Human Rights in China
 Human Asia (humanasia@humanasia.org)     2012년 02월 20일    2,307  

The Uncomfortable Truth on Human Rights in China 
 Sukhee Han
(Yonsei University)

The rise of China as a global power is no longer a new issue. Over the past three decades, China has aimed to become the hegemony in areas of diplomacy, culture and military, using its economic development as a steppingstone. As the country rises as a global power, various views concerning China’s future began to surface in the international society. Taken together, the views can be summed up into the following two categories. First, is the optimism that if China emerges as a great power, it will seek to promote human rights and democracy in the domestic sphere as one of the leaders of the international community. However, pessimism exists that if China grows into a world power, the country will resist the pressure from the international society, distort the direction of development for human rights and democracy and justify the socialist system, confident of its own development.

As China is becoming a global power at a rapid pace, the international community has expected that China would respond sensitively to its international image and achieve human rights development and democracy. That is because human rights development and democratization are a prerequisite for China - rapidly increasing its national power enough to challenge the supremacy of the US as a member of G2 - to become a true international leader. However, considering how China is handling domestic human rights issues over the recent few years, pessimism is likely to prevail in terms of human rights development and the possibility of democratization in China. As China’s national power and international influence grow, the country is defying the international rules governing human rights, ignoring the call for human rights development from the international society and justifying its attitude against human rights.

One of the incidents reflecting such a problem of China came with the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiabo, a Chinese dissident and prominent human rights activist. The 54 year-old activist, who worked as a scholar, writer, poet and social activist, was serving an 11-year sentence in prison for inciting subversion of state power when he became the finalist for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. The world began to pay great attention to Liu Xiabo and how the Chinese government was dealing with the activist. However, China demanded that the Nobel Committee revoke its decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize and the government never allowed Liu to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in spite of the international pressure and criticism it has received. His picture on an empty chair of the stage at the award ceremony illustrates the current human rights situation in China.
That was not the end of the Chinese government’s irrationality. The government posed questions about the authority and tradition of the Nobel Prize, which has received admiration and respect from all over the world for over a century, and it strongly criticized that the Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to whom his own country entitled criminal. Worse, the government hastily established the Confucius Prize as the symbol of its discontent with the Nobel Peace Prize and first gave it to Lien Chan, a Taiwanese politician. This behavior was so out of the ordinary that it caused China ridicule all around the world, Lien Chan rejected the prize. Overall, that China faces an uncompromising structural dilemma when it comes to human rights issues and democracy is not an overstatement.

Currently, the most important goal of the Chinese government, which adheres to the socialist system, is the maintenance of the system and stabilization of the government. When Cold War ended in the early 1990s, socialist systems had collapsed all around the world and since then, China has put maintenance of the socialist system as the highest political priority and it will try to continue to follow the principle as much as possible. However, human rights development and democratization in China are considered essential for the country to become a world rival to the US. Can a country be a world power or a leader when it does not set a model in human rights issues and achieve political democracy?
The Chinese government attempts to prove it can indeed become a world leader without human rights improvement and the success of democratization. In particular, China tries to build relationships with neighboring countries in the economic field, which is the essence of its comparative advantage. In the process, the government only focuses on economic power and interdependence, but it tends to show no interest in issues such as human rights development and democratization. However, a country cannot attain the status of a global power only by economic power. A country can be respected as a world power only when its neighboring countries or the international community acknowledge it as such.

China should place political priority on human rights development and democratization over the expansion of economic strength so that it can be acknowledged and respected as a world leader. After all, no country would respect China as a world power if it does not guarantee human rights and accomplish democracy.