The EU and China

The impact of EU policy on the human rights situation in the People’s Republic of China

Term Paper, 2008

29 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Human Rights
2.1. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

3. History of the Human Rights Situation in China
3.1. Mao Zedong
3.1.1. Invasion of Tibet
3.1.2. Cultural Revolution
3.2. Tiananmen Square
3.3. Falun Gong
3.4. Recent Developments: The Beijing Olympics and Tibet Protests

4. The European Union’s China Policy
4.1. Strategic Partnership vs. Strategic Dialogue
4.2. Conditional/Constructive Engagement

5. Impact of EU Policy on Human Rights Situation in China
5.1. Achievements to date
5.2. Future Challenges and Prospects

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography
7.1. Scientific Sources
7.2. Non-Scientific Sources

1. Introduction

This paper seeks to establish the impact of policies of the European Union (EU) on the human rights development in the People’s Republic of China. To this end it will start by looking at the definition of human rights from a United Nations (UN) perspective. It will then continue with a brief survey of major human rights abuses in China since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949; examples comprise inter alia the actions of Chairman Mao Zedong in context of the Tibet invasion and the Cultural Revolution, the crackdown of student protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989, suppression of spiritual and religious groups like the Falun Gong, and most recently human rights abuses in context of the Beijing Olympics with the repression of protests and a cordoning off in Tibet.

In the main part of the study, the paper will examine the European Union’s policies towards China and shed light on the nature of the relationship between the two parties. The profoundness of the relations will be discussed in light of the difference between strategic dialogue and strategic partnership and the intentions of the EU’s conditional engagement policy will be analysed.

After the analysis of Europe’s policies towards China the effects of these will be appraised by looking at the degree to which the EU has been able to attain the objectives its policies were targeted at. In this regard, progress has been most noticeable in the areas of economic rights, social rights, the rule of law and China’s responses to formal complaints regarding specific human rights violations. Substantial shortcomings do however still exist, especially in the areas of civil and political rights.

After having analysed the influence the EU has exercised to date the study will critically evaluate the prospects for success of Europe’s strategy and the challenges it will face with it in the future. The most critical issues in this respect consist in trade-offs between various types of human rights in China’s current development state, non-congruent views on the meaning of human dignity and democracy, different opinions between China and the EU on the applicability and the extend of conditional engagement policies, and finally conflicts of interest on behalf of the European Union.

Eventually, the paper concludes that the impact of the European Union on the human rights development in China remains far from clear-cut. Whereas some scholars and politicians attribute much of the observed advancements to Europe’s conditional engagement policy, others challenge this view and contest that development on the human rights front is predominantly related to China’s economic progress. While the answer lies probably somewhere in between these two opposing views, the challenges outlined above will make the achievement of further human rights progress in China a difficult task. Whereas developments on the economic and social side are also in China’s interest and hence will be relatively easy to promote, holistic progress - including civil and political rights - will only be possible if existing differences can be mitigated. This however, will require a substantial amount of time, mutual understanding and the willingness to compromise on behalf of both parties.

2. Human Rights

2.1. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On December 10, 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In thirty articles it outlines what the member states of the United Nations (UN) regard as the fundamental rights and freedoms which should be guaranteed to every human being in the world. The declaration is concerned with political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights and comprises issues like for example equality before the law, the right to a fair and legal process before court, freedom of thought and religion, information and press freedom, the right to peaceful assembly, and the right to vote and participate in political processes (UDHR, 1948).

Later, in 1966, two UN human rights covenants were adopted to elaborate on the rights defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to make them legally binding: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (Wikipedia, 2008a). The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights holds states accountable to working towards granting the respective rights to its citizens. It contains for example, the right to work and freely choose one’s occupation, the right to “decent” living conditions and the right to welfare and social security (ICESCR, 1966, p.3). The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is the civil and political rights equivalent to the ICESCR and covers for example issues such as the abandonment of forced and compulsory labour, the avoidance of arbitrary arrest or detention, the right to a safe and healthy life and the abolishment of death penalty – whereas the latter remains subject to an optional protocol of the covenant (ICCPR, 1966).

3. History of the Human Rights Situation in China

3.1. Mao Zedong

Parallel to the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the civil war in China drew to a close. In 1949 the Communist Party of China (CPC) under Chairman Mao Zedong claimed victory over its rival party, the Kuomintang, and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In the aftermath Mao Zedong, as the first leader of the PRC, not only engaged in serious human rights violations, but even committed genocide and crimes against humanity (Colaresi & Carey, 2008, p.47). A crime against humanity is existent when attacks on human dignity and human rights infringements are undertaken in a systematic manner and as part of a government policy (Cassese et al., 2002 cited in Horton, 2005).

3.1.1. Invasion of Tibet

About one year after the proclamation of the PRC, Mao ordered the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to invade the then autonomous state Tibet and the PRC claimed sovereignty over the entire Tibetan territory shortly afterwards. Apart from the fact that this act can be regarded as an illegal invasion and annexation which constitutes a serious violation of the sovereignty of nations and international law, as pointed out by Teng (1995), China has been accused of a large variety of human rights violations in the region. More than a million Tibetans disappeared as a consequence of the invasion, most of which are believed to have lost their lives. Others were prosecuted, detained into so-called re-education camps, and subjected to torture in order to break their resistance to the Chinese occupation. Many of the detainees never came close to court or anything that could be deemed a fair legal process (Draguhn & Goodman, 2002; Meisner, 1999; Wikipedia, 2008b). The two most prominent victims of prosecution are the two highest ranking lamas in Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. Whereas the former had to flee from China to evade detention and imprisonment, the latter died in 1989 under mysterious circumstances. He was replaced by a new Panchen Lama determined by the Chinese authorities, after Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama as ordained by the Dalai Lama, had disappeared under unsolved circumstances shortly after his selection. In context of his disappearance, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima has been termed the “youngest political prisoner in the world” (Lim, 2006). With their policy towards the spiritual and political leaders of the Tibetans the Chinese aim to suppress any demands or claims for autonomy as well as religious sentiments among the Tibetan population. Manifestation of their religion is thus another area in which the Tibetans are faced by severe human rights violations. This latter point will be further elaborated on later in this study (Mingxu, 1998).

3.1.2. Cultural Revolution

Inherent in the Cultural Revolution which was launched in 1966 as a campaign to counter the development of a broadening wealthy and educated upper middle class was a power struggle between Mao and rivalling members of the Communist Party of China (CPC). In order to regain some of the power he had lost in the preceding years, Mao launched a number of reforming initiatives that eventually resulted in social, political and economic disaster. A vast number of people were forced to leave the cities, move to the countryside and were exposed to propaganda teachings of the CPC. Many others were barred even from very basic education such as literacy, schools were destroyed and scholars prosecuted, arrested and re-educated. Religious figures became subject to intensified prosecution and traditional artists and authors were deprived of their right to freedom of expression through a threat of punishment for producing or protecting anything that ran contrary to the ‘new’ culture. Ethnic minorities just as political opponents were also prosecuted, tortured, and beaten to death with the number of politically- or ideologically motivated homicides during the Cultural Revolution mounting to several hundreds of thousands (Meisner, 1999; Wikipedia, 2008c).

3.2. Tiananmen Square

During the weeks preceding June 4, 1989 students and labour activists repeatedly gathered at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in order to protest for structural reforms and more democratic elements in the Chinese government. After a series of attempts to end the demonstrations through public media and police interventions, on June 4 the PLA violently knocked down the protest. According to the Chinese Red Cross, up to 2,600 thousand peaceful demonstrators may have lost their lives during this intervention (Frontline, 2001). Following the crackdown, the Chinese government conducted widespread arrests to suppress the remaining supporters of the so-called Chinese democracy movement, and strictly censored coverage of the events in the Chinese press.

The violent suppression led to widespread international protest and condemnation of the events. Many countries, among them the member states of the European Union (then European Community) put an arms embargo on weapons sales to China. The embargo still holds today, although several EU leaders increasingly demand the ban to be lifted (Holslag, 2006).

3.3. Falun Gong

Falun Gong is a special form of the traditional Chinese mental and physical training Qigong. It is concerned with morality, virtue and consideration of others and aims at the development of mind, body, and character. Stemming from Buddhism and Taoism it comprises elements such as spiritual and meditational practices and stress relief techniques. It is widely believed to contribute to the health of body and soul.

Being welcomed and supported by the Chinese government in its early days, Falun Gong quickly gained popularity among the Chinese and even started spreading beyond China’s borders during the 1990s. However, when in 1999 critique of the Falun Gong practice was voiced by He Zuoxiu, a well known physicist and member of the CPC, many Falun Gong supporters launched protests against an alleged defamation of the practice (Wikipedia, 2008d).

After the protests had reached the Communist Party’s headquarters in July 1999 the Chinese government banned the practice as an illegal practice advocating superstition, contributing to social unrest and threatening the maintenance of a harmonious society. Following the ban, Falun Gong supporters frequently protested against this ruling. As a consequence many of them faced prosecution, and ended up in illegal imprisonment being tortured, abused, and subjected to forced labour (Chang, 2004; Li, 1998)

3.4. Recent Developments: The Beijing Olympics and Tibet Protests

In the context of the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing in summer 2008 foreign governments and international bodies have allegedly wrenched commitments on a number of human rights issues from the Chinese government. For example the government had to grant foreign journalists the right to free press coverage of events surrounding the Games. This includes allowing them to conduct interviews with any organization or individual throughout China. Being granted to foreign journalists these rights do not extend to their Chinese counterparts, however. For instance, Chinese journalists interviewing witnesses to a bridge collapse in Hunan province in southeast China in August 2007 which killed at least 36 people were being attacked by (potentially instructed) thugs, involved in a row and then detained by the police (BBC, 2007a; HRW, 2007c).Apart from violating the right of freedom of expression, this differentiation constitutes a clear form of discrimination against the country’s own nationals.

Yet, the freedoms granted to foreign journalists too exist largely in theory only and do not hold in practice in many cases. Foreign journalist repeatedly reported of harassment and intimidation experienced when pursuing stories deemed sensitive by the Chinese government, such as politically and socially motivated riots and demonstrations, Tibet-related topics, or the country’s HIV-epidemic (HRW, 2007a). According to Human Rights Watch (2007b), for example, media coverage of an effort by countryside petitioners to convey a message about illegal land confiscation and corruption in their districts to Party officials in Beijing was impeded through harassment and unwarranted police interrogations of the inquiring foreign journalists. In another example, foreign reporters attempted to interview the wife of a well-known, imprisoned human rights defender when she was on her way to receive an international human rights award on behalf of her husband. The journalists were forced by government officials to accompany them to their local offices where they were imposed a time-consuming registration process in order to obtain a license to conduct the interview. After the registration procedure the potential interviewee had disappeared, supposedly detained by the police (HRW, 2007c).

The most prominent human rights abuses, however, have occurred just recently, following protests by monks in Tibet which began near the Tibetan capital Lhasa on March 10, 2008. The protests were aimed against the repression of religious freedoms, such as public worshipping or the right to carry religious symbols and pictures of holy places and personalities (Macartney, 2008). Within days the protests had spread beyond Lhasa, throughout the entire Tibetan Autonomous Region, and into the neighbouring Chinese provinces. In the course of events, ordinary Tibetans joined the demonstrations protesting against the Chinese rule in Tibet and a gradual marginalisation of their culture. When the protests started to turn violent, the Chinese government stepped up its military presence in Tibet in order to stifle the insurgencies (Spiegel, 2008a). While it remains unclear where the violence emanated from and whether it was Tibetans or the Chinese who resorted to violence first, it has been confirmed that several people lost their lives during the demonstrations. Chinese officials report 22 fatalities, while other sources speak of more than one hundred dead (Branigan & Weaver, 2008). In light of the spreading violence and the Chinese government’s struggle to regain control of the situation, any foreign citizens and media were evicted from Tibet and thus far have not been granted access again (Spiegel, 2008b).


Excerpt out of 29 pages


The EU and China
The impact of EU policy on the human rights situation in the People’s Republic of China
Vrije University Brussel  (Faculty of Economic, Political and Social Sciences and Solvay Business School)
European and International Politics
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
497 KB
China, European, International, Politics
Quote paper
Jens Hillebrand (Author), 2008, The EU and China, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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