Human Rights in Asia
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Human Rights in Asia

Edited by Thomas W.D. Davis and Brian Galligan

Does the increasing prominence of Asia also mark a new era for human rights in the region? This timely book uncovers the political drivers behind both recent regional and country-based changes to the recognition, promotion and protection of rights.
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Chapter 11: China’s Human Rights in ‘the Asian Century’

Ann Kent


Ann Kent China’s practice of human rights is rightly criticised for lacking transparency and, in recent years, since the country has become more selfconfident and assertive, it has been even more opaque. Yet, since 1991 the Chinese government has adopted a policy of explaining to the world its particular human rights philosophy in great detail, by issuing a series of human rights White Papers which are strong on theoretical exegesis and formalised policy doctrine, if weak on empirical detail. Whether China has shifted its position from an ‘Asian values’ approach, which was de rigueur from 1991 to 1997, to a ‘post-Asian values’ approach in the present Asian century may therefore be usefully examined in the first instance through a textual comparison between its 1991 human rights White Paper, which projected specifically Chinese and Asian values, and its National Human Rights Action Plan of 2009, which claims to have moved China into a new era embracing international human rights values (Information Office, 1991; Information Office, 2009). What these two documents have in common, and where they differ, sheds light on the question, fundamental to this volume, about a possible shift in Asian, and in this case, Chinese, human rights values in the twenty-first century. To supplement this textual analysis, the question is examined empirically. Has China altered its human rights practice in the last decade in ways that, by contrast with the latter part of the twentieth century, accord more closely with the values of international human rights law? That is,...

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