chinaLast week, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published its annual report on human rights in the European Union. Among other things (including condemning the mass surveillance activities revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden) the 153-page publication slammed Europe for its “aggressive promotion” of gay rights.

Clearly the EU’s definition of “human rights” is not taken from the same dictionary as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who recently signed into law a ban on “homosexual propaganda” and has argued that Russia needs to “cleanse” itself of gays in order to increase its birth rate.

How should Europe respond to statements like this? Aren’t human rights supposed to be universal? Or should Europe take into account cultural and traditional differences in its dealings with the rest of the world? At least one of our commenters, Aleksander, argues that Europe needs to promote human rights more actively in other countries:

In my opinion, the EU should spearhead economic development in the world because – unlike other political world powers – it does respect human rights and liberties… For example, China, India or even the USA often put [economic] progress before ‘humanity’.

But is Europe really such a beacon of human rights around the globe? And even if it is, does an emphasis on human rights and freedom of expression hurt Europe’s economic relations with the rest of the world? The British Prime Minister, for example, last year distanced himself from the Tibet issue in order to mend relations with China, claiming the two countries had “turned a page” since David Cameron met with Dalai Lama in 2012 and angered the Chinese government.

There are also signs that China is anyway slowly reforming its approach to human rights. Last November, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a series of reforms, including relaxing China’s one-child policy and closing down its extensive network of forced labor camps. Do Europeans maybe have a biased and confused impression of the human rights situation in China?

We spoke to Ingrid d’Hooghe, Senior Research Associate at The Netherlands Institute of International Relations. She argued strongly that concerns over human rights in China were definitely justified:

However, we got a different response from Christopher Dent, Professor in East Asia’s Political Economy at Leeds University. He argued that China is such a vast country that the human rights issue is almost impossible for anybody to understand fully, even within the country. But he did think that Western media can often over-simplify and over-hype the issue.

And we got a different answer again from Cheng Weidong, a Professor at the European Studies Institute of the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences (CASS), who suggested that there is often misunderstanding and exaggeration in Western media about human rights in China. He argued that Europeans have to accept that the concept of human rights has to be adjusted to fit traditional cultures.

Finally, we spoke to Katharine Derderian, an Executive Officer dealing with EU Foreign Policy at Amnesty International. She highlighted several areas of great concern in China and responded to the comment from Aleksander by arguing that the EU definitely has a huge role to play in promoting human rights internationally.

Is Europe really such a beacon of human rights around the world? And even if it is, does an emphasis on human rights hurt Europe’s economic relations? Should Europe take greater account for cultural and traditional differences between societies? Or should it increase pressure on countries like China and Russia to reform? Let us know YOUR thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

IMAGE CREDITS: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic – Luo Shaoyang

63 comments Post a commentComment

What do YOU think?

  1. Paul X

    I think it is very arrogant of Europe to think it’s vision of human rights is the one the rest of the world should conform to

    So Putin disagreees with the “agressive promotion” of homosexuality, it should also be a right of people who disagree with homosexuality to openly say so without accusations of homophobia

    The European ideal of Human rights seems very selective in who gets the rights and it should be accepted that other countries do not share the same priorities………in fact, a lot of people within Europe do not share the same sentiments as the “politically correct” brigade but they still manage to force their will onto everybody and have anyone who disagrees ostracised

    • Kroum Balabanov

      Paul, not everything is relative. How about HR Conventions to which China signed up….And do not change the subject, please. How abou the right to live for “second children” in China? The right to education….

  2. Popa Luminita

    In UE exista ideologia social democrata care este cea mai generoasa.Social democratia trebuie sa fie peste tot.

  3. Angel Quintana

    From Spain: maybe the EU should first clean up their own house before checking on others…
    But hey! Politicians are the ones prepared, with academic skills and all that.. Right?

  4. Borislav Valkov

    It’s Chineese way of governing. I believe that youngsters will change China gradually and they will earn their own self- governing. In Bulgaria we had a collapsed comunist regime and no earned self- goverment because the current goverment is from ex- comunist elite childrens!

    • Kroum Balabanov

      I agree, Borislav. Their way of governing is a product of heir history and culture whereby you had the enlightened mandarins over “dark peasantry” and special respect paid to stability & seniority (Konfucius). As is the example with Korea, Taiwan , HK & Japan, middle class, esp young middle class one day claims democratic rights and democratic government. Singapoore is still a meritocracy, like China is, but one day, who knows.

  5. Ka Kł

    Of course it should. Chinese and Russians economy would hurt as well. But it would be a lot much more painful for that two countries, because their whole system is based on economy. In Europe economy is as important as values we belive. So we can get through any crisis.

  6. Kroum Balabanov

    Not the Chinese, the communist way of governing. An alternative of the “Chinese way” is Hong Kong (democratic but not sovereign), Taiwan (democracy) and even Singapoore (a meritocracy). But I agree that with the rise of the middle class in China civil and human rights would have to be respected…..Like in Korea or Taiwan or Chile. But since the People’s Republic “unites” many nations and more than one region, on different stages of deveopment, a democratized China might not mean ONE CHINA or China in its present boundaries – which is exactly what the communist regime is afraid of and exactly why theTiananmen Massacre (of 4th June 1989) happened.

  7. Tiago Menezes

    The EU can’t really put pressure on a country like China, unless it starts by setting an example. And the funny thing is that countries such as China are starting to notice that, and use it as a bargaining tool.

  8. Dino

    The issue of human rights,is not a question yes or no it’s now!
    The european union and the united states should work faster to create a economic
    free zone. In effect a supper west. This will help other states learn to respect their populations and not take advantage of cheap labor.They would have to be a democracy to join the club.

  9. André Miguel António

    Now it’s too late, they are starting to buy Europe. Portugal is for sale, and they are buying this country for a bargain… Thanks for all! :p

  10. Martti Immonen

    Certainly EU should do what they can. It´s never an answer to be far too politically correct.

  11. Tsvetanka Boeva

    If not being “guardian”, at least Europe must not negotiate with dictators like Erdogan… as Europe does. It’s an example of a very bad “guardian”, actually encouraging dictators and dictatorship. Opening the negotiations with Turkey after Erdogan’s actions is shame on Europe.

  12. Alex Tselentis

    Why dont we all clean up our own homes, before telling other to do so, the last time i checked the EU was looking more like the New Soviet Union and more devided than ever.

  13. Matej Tolić

    What about bringin back factories to Europe and limiting import from China so European economies coulud recover easier? That is far more imortant for Europe.

    • Marcel

      Forget it, the EU is too obsessed with signing the job destroying TIPP treaty. And they will make propaganda to try and get you to believe it will create jobs. Oh in a way it will, just not in Europe.

  14. Pedro Celestino

    At the very least we shouldn’t be dealing with them (much less in business).

    But yes we should always try to help those in need, although best way would be tring to give them more education and emancipation….

  15. Tsvetanka Boeva

    O, but bringing the factories back would mean to ensure better conditions for the workers and to abide by the European laws for payment and working times… It’s so much easier to use the cheaper production and work force of China and to pretend to care for the rights of the people there!

  16. André R. Costa

    FIRST, be guardian of human rights inside the EU border and respect europeans…
    It could be quite nice instead of wanting to be the world police…

  17. Manos

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. This includes both people and countries. Nobody has the legitimacy to enforce his own views on any matter to others. As long as the people of each country comply and agree with the rules of their constitution/judiciary, i see no reason why anyone should tell them to modify them. I believe that nobody holds the ”absolute truth” and claiming that one does, only proves how foolish one is. Thus, the answer is no! EU should not impose or (in)directly affect the perspectives on human rights against any third country. Let alone use economic tools to influence humanitarian beliefs.

    • Dino

      One question,what do you know about Tiananmen Square?

  18. Carlo De Michele

    First EU should check uman right violations in Greece. Are you aware of the situation?

  19. Richard Osborne

    Definitely not, the e.u doesn’t possess the vision, resources or ability to enforce. . . . .it would simply be an excuse to justify more fat beauracrats’ salaries

  20. Richard Osborne

    Definitely not, the e.u doesn’t possess the vision, resources or ability to enforce. . . . .it would simply be an excuse to justify more fat beauracrats’ salaries

  21. Zamira Karvani

    The Europe soon will be Chinese -ed, So we must learn Chinese language parallel with english language, and every European citizen have to give e quarter of their homes to the Chinese people,Oh No,I don’t want China in Europe…(Albanian woman)

  22. Zamira Karvani

    The Europe soon will be Chinese -ed, So we must learn Chinese language parallel with english language, and every European citizen have to give e quarter of their homes to the Chinese people,Oh No,I don’t want China in Europe…(Albanian woman)

  23. Christos Mouzeviris

    We can only inspire, never impose or invade other nations to achieve this… Trade is our greatest weapon.. Instead of forcing their leaders to comply, which hardens their opposition, let us establish trade relations.. If our tradesmen move over there and theirs over here, new ideas will start flowing and our example, values and living standards will inspire their people to adopt or copy them.. Then human nature will do the rest.. If the people in these countries change mentality then Europe won’t have to impose anything or try hard . Our values and way of life will be copied by them..

  24. Bastian

    What the West calls “human rights” are basically the principles which appear necessary to Western elites to completely unbound the Capitalist labour market.
    Any discrimination against foreigners, gays, disabled etc. would from a Capitalist view put unacceptable restrictions on the exploitation and mobility of labour. This is the main rational behind Western “human rights”. However, as history shows Western powers quickly abandon these “rights” as soon as their own rule is in danger.
    It could well be that Russia and China will also fully adopt Western “human rights” in case they reach the state of a full fledged Capitalist economy, provided there can only be one type of Capitalism.

  25. Victor S. Popaliciu

    right now people are fighting in the streets of Ukraine for their right to join the European Union -a space of democracy freedom and human rights.in 1989 we where in the streets of Romania and odher contries from the comunist terror space fighting that one day we will be free living in democracy .today we live this dreem we are free in European Union and all our hopes and dreems are real and we want to keep it real so European Union -our home now has as a duty to protect the human rights and the citizens of EU rights and never stop from fighting for democracy peace harmony and human rights. There is a realy Great Short Movie on Youtube called -Brief History of Human Rights -in my oppinion one of the greatest short movies evere made and in just a few minutes anyone can see what is all about and for what we where in the streets in 1989 and for what the people of Ukraine are fighting right now..

    • Marcel

      You still don’t understand that the EU itself isn’t democratic? The EU is a neo-Soviet structure designed to eliminate national democracy.

      We are seeing our wealth decline (first relatively, the absolute decline is coming) because hordes of eastern Europeans are flooding our job market pushing our own people out.

      We do not want the EU to have more countries, we want it disbanded. Return to EEC and no more political integration.

      The EU is a threat to our national wealth. The EU wants to take 20% of our wealth and give it to Greece and Romania.

  26. Tarquin Farquhar

    Not until it gets rid of the death penalty!

  27. Miguel Verissimo

    Of course!!! China is no longest a poor country. EU must stand for wealth spread and democracy. Not doing it, we are already compromising 200 years of people’s struggle for a better living… After a fair policy of opening markets to tied and impoverished countries, it’s time to react, standing aside of people against corrupt governments and policies….

  28. Andrea Tuswald

    hahaha, not caring about human rights in itself, but telling others what to do – typical.

  29. catherine benning

    This article exposes how the Chinese are indeed adopting our Western way of in way of ‘inequality for all’ and doing so with both hands. What a laugh, from communism to unrepentant elitism in the toss of a coin.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2014/jan/21/china-british-virgin-islands-wealth-offshore-havens

    And censorship in order that their people remain in the dark …Sound familiar?

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/22/guardian-blocked-china-leaderships-offshore-wealth

    Once again the Western torture of ‘inequality for all’ as we know it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-rpkZe2OEo

  30. Jorge

    I would prefer EU care for the human rights here, inside EU.

    In Spain lots of people suicided cause the crisis. They have been expeled from their own houses cause they have lost their job.

    Our Constitution punsih for urging to suicide.. Crisis which is responsable the System, the Goverments, the Capitalism is the cause, but Europe Union is not doing anything for it…

    Why should I be worry about China?

    Let’s clean home… Do we start in the underground jails of USA in Poland?

    • Tarquin Farquhar

      @Jorge
      Spain was the cause of its own demise via its endemic corruption.

      Nevertheless, what the Fuhroland has done to Spain is disgusting – suicides, housing repossessions, hunger…if Spain had its own currency it would be out of recession NOW, like the UK.

    • Kroum Balabanov

      I agree, Jorge. First things first! However, we live in an interconnected world and one of the reasons of our problems (e.g. unprecedented unempoyment among young people esp in Southern Europe) is Chinese low-cost competition. And one of the reasons for that is that human/labor rights mean nothing in China, environmental costs mean nothing, etc. The result is that their resources used are not valued and the cost of their exports to us is low. Many West Corps moved production there, some return. But meanwhile the Chinese stole the technology and apply it themselves (this is beyond human rights, it falls into general lawlessness), the manipulation of the Yuan rate – same thing. And the effect is we are losing jobs. Another thing is social rights, social insurance and so on – these things either increase the labor costs or increase budget expenditures – they are not incurred in China. Why? Because human life and human rights mean nothing… But that has an impact on our situation too, not entirely adverse, because we benefit as consumers, but adverse nevertheless. We might learn from and coordinate efforts with America, because whenever they deem the playfield to be too uneven, Treasury Secretary reports to Congress and Congress only threatens to slap a tariff on China and China backs down. We might do the same thing …with care and with the US.

  31. Samuel Tandorf

    A short answer: YES!

  32. Reut Rut Rut

    Obviously, China abuses its citizens by cruel laws trample on the rights of the citizen. All the countries over the world need to unite and stop their trade relations with China until China will respect the rights of the citizen.

  33. eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    O Comunismo Chinês já passou há história a China Moderna precisa de um lider forte no topo do seu estado porque o problema da China Moderna não é de direitos mas sim das estruturas porque todos querem ter uma democracia igual há de todos os Europeus e os meus pensamentos estão com todos cidadões Chineses que lutam por uma nova China Moderna

  34. Marcel

    Let’s ban all products with the name ‘Apple, Inc’ on them. Most of those are made in China under slave labor like conditions.

    Wonder if all European ‘progressives’ playing around with their i-Phones realize this?

  35. jellyintheoven

    No. Peaceful dialogue and cooperation should always be sought. What right do we have to dictate to another country? Can you see the irony when China are so often accused of being authoritarian? What about the human rights violations of our own government cast upon people in foreign countries? Illegal wars. Why such a fuss over China? Why not America? You have to clean your hands before you can even begin to think of pointing a finger at another!

  36. Al

    The EU should focus on the EU, end of!

  37. zixoo

    Not at all focus on our domestic problems we are not the US :P

  38. C.P.

    No. Is EU treating China like in some pre-adheration plan ??

    • adamtom

      China pushes ahead with an innovative emission trading scheme increasing the pressure on European lawmakers to restructure the oversupplied EU-ETS

  39. M

    NO. Do not be like USA and tell other how it should be! China is a country – respect that.

  40. ironworker

    Big NO NO. Not everyone should be judge by our own measure. China has to stay organized somehow otherwise it will be chaos. I’m not sure that someone here have the right picture of what a single breakfast means in terms of quantity for 1.3 billion people.

  41. S.K

    Why doesnt the EU pressure its friend and ally the USA to close guantanamo and compensate victims of torture, and to make a court case against G.W.Bush for war crimes and crimes against humanity OH WAIT AMERICANS CANT COMMIT CRIMES——THEY ARE EXCEPTIONAL BLAH BLAH. Your belief in human rights is one sided, if your friends break them you find ways to look the other way or to justify it but if a country you dont like is doing something wrong you pounce HYPOCRISY.

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