On Friday, June 24, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law hosted a discussion with Dr. Wim Muller, as part of its Human Rights in Practice Series, which addresses current issues in human rights practice on the basis of groundbreaking scholarship. Muller is a Lecturer in Public International Law at Maastricht University and Associate Fellow, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House in London. In his presentation, Muller examined China’s historical emphasis on economic and social rights over civil and political rights, and evaluated the effect of this rhetoric on the human rights discourse, both at the domestic level in China and at the international level.
In his discussion, Muller traced China’s prioritization of social and economic rights to Cold War politics and argued that China’s defensive diplomacy policy was triggered by the harsh criticism the government received after its brutal repression of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. In an effort to change the negative perception of the international community, Muller noted the Chinese government’s attempts to engage thereafter in the human rights discourse in a more constructive manner that allowed it to align itself with the developing world and emphasize developmental rights. Such changes can be seen in the role China played, for example, in the creation of the Human Rights Council. Muller noted China’s success in behind-the-scenes diplomacy that helped shape the final make-up of the Human Rights Council.
Muller also addressed China’s more recent visible normative initiatives along with some of its common initiatives with western countries in the areas of economic and social rights. These include HR Council Resolution 2/2 on human rights and extreme poverty as well as HR Council Resolution 4/7 which calls for a process to rectify the anomalous legal status of the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights compared with the other human rights treaty bodies.
In the group discussion that followed, Muller discussed the role of NGO’s and civil society in shaping China’s human rights discourse. In conclusion, Muller argued that given China’s role as a rising global power, its emphasis on social and economic rights discourse has had some tangible – positive and negative – effects, both at the domestic level and the international level.