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FOCUS September 1996 Volume 5

China and Human Rights

An international conference on the human rights situation in China started off with a thought-provoking presentation on contextualizing the China question within the region's realpolitik - where the threat to peace comes not from China but the United States. This assertion led to a vigorous exchange of opinions. Dis-agreement on the view about China's non-expansionist behavior surfaced strongly.

The China question is really a controversial issue. It presents the problem of addressing human rights violations that undoubtedly take place in the country despite (and/or because of) fast-paced economic development.

Presentations on political dissent, workers' rights, migrant peasant laborers, and Tibet [Autonomous Region of China] highlight the continuing violations of human rights in China. The presentations on universality of human rights and cultural relativism brought forth issues that the Chinese government use to deflect criticisms of its human rights record.

The presentations on NGO strategies and human rights groups in and outside China point to the need to consider carefully the changing situation in China and the region to which it is very much linked by the prevailing free market system. Calls for interlink between groups working on human rights with those on economic, social, environmental and other issues is deemed appropriate in addressing the complex problems in China. Discussions on the seeming promise of change being brought by globalization or free market economics in China, and the need to maintain credibility and integrity of the campaign on China (avoiding the impression of acting as stooges of Western powers such as the United States, or being racist) came up. There is a repeated statement on the reality that change will not happen overnight in China. Thus groups must adopt long-term programs with clear agenda for change.

The conference issued a statement which, among other matters, take China to task by saying that:

"[A]s a member of the UN Security Council and as a member of the UN Human Rights Commission, China has a special duty to uphold the collective will of the international community. As China opens itself to the world and seeks a greater role in global affairs, it must accept the responsibilities and obligations that come with such engagement. It must take steps to create conditions in which all persons can enjoy the exercise of their fundamental rights and ratify international human rights instruments and cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms as well as to bring its domestic laws into conformity with such instruments. China must also open itself to scrutiny by regional and international human rights organizations."

The small group discussions resulted in agreement to set up national support groups which will receive and disseminate information about the human rights situation in China, and to bring up the China issue in different regional and international fora whether they have human rights as the major agenda or not. Equally stressed is the idea of building people-to-people contact between groups in China and groups in other countries in order to have a channel for extending support.

The conference, jointly organized by Amnesty International and Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia), was attended by representatives of human rights organizations in Asia as well as sections and groups of AI in the region. The conference was held in Manila on August 30 to September 1, 1996. For further information, contact: Amnesty International Pilipinas Section, 114 Scout Limbaga Street, Kamuning, Quezon city, Philippines, tel. (632) 9266-280, tel/fax (632) 411-5450; e-mail: aimnl@phil.gn.apc.org

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