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China's Response to International Normative Pressure: The Case of Human Rights


Over the past three decades, the People's Republic of China's response to international human rights pressure has been guided by its strong state identity, an identity that prioritised the pursuit of economic productivity, material power and international prestige. The goal of a strong socialist state led Beijing to participate in the UN human rights regime for strategic and diplomatic gains, and later to endorse human rights norms that were perceived as consistent with them. Accordingly, the PRC saw colonialism, imperialism, hegemonism, and racism as key human rights violations, while opposing the universality of human rights and rejecting intrusive human rights monitoring, deemed as detrimental to its strong state goal. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, China faced unprecedented international pressure and responded by challenging aspects of the human rights system. During negotiations to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights with the Human Rights Council, China again sought to shield itself from human rights pressure, primarily by challenging country specific approaches. Thus, instead of the normative influence leading to norm-compliant behaviour, China has sought to diminish human rights pressure and shape international human rights institutions in ways that are advantageous to its state interests.
Keywords: China, human rights, United Nations, international norms