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Publication Date


Document Type

Honors Project




Human rights-China, China-Politics and government - 2002-, China-Politics and government - 1976-2002, China-Foreign relations-21st century, International relations, 2008-, Foreign policy


My study examines the international dimension of China's human rights policy in the past two decades, focusing in particular on human rights defenders, ethnic minority rights and religious freedom. Contrasting policies before and after 2008, I find that in recent years, China has shifted from a flexible and accommodating behavior to a more strident and uncompromising attitude. China has fiercely reacted to criticisms by the U.S. and the E.U. regarding its human rights record and condemned foreign actors such as the Dalai Lama, Rebiya Kadeer, foreign media and anti-China protestors. Even though the harsh crackdown on ethnic minority rioters in Tibet and Xinjiang was to a certain extent understandable, the PRC's persecution of well-known human rights activists and provocative ordinations of Catholic bishops might have been unnecessarily harsh and even counter-productive to its goals of fostering social stability and enhancing international status. My argument is that a purely realist analysis does not sufficiently account for China's behavior. Rising international influence has increased the country's room for maneuver, but it might not have necessarily driven its strident human rights diplomacy. A domestic factors approach that takes both interests and perceptions into account is applied instead. My contention is that the most important factor causing the recent worsening attitude is regime insecurity caused by heightened social tension. Other contributing factors are domestic nationalistic sentiments, the background and policy preferences of the Hu Jintao leadership, and the intensified political struggle in the run up to the 2012 power transition. These variables have motivated more conservative, inward-looking and narrow-minded foreign policies. In addition to regime insecurity, historical legacies have had a lingering impact on China's international relations outlook and an influence on its position on human rights, sovereignty, territorial 5 integrity and religious authority. I conclude with a discussion of how my study connects to the literature on Chinese foreign policies and the observation that foreign pressure for democratization and respect for human rights will not be productive in times of domestic challenges in China.




126 p. : col. ill. Honors project-Smith College, Northampton, Mass., 2012. Includes bibliographical references (p. 114-126)