Written by Xu Ruike.

It is unsurprising that British journalists and commentators were obsessive in criticizing China’s human right records during President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UK last week. Their sincerity concerning human rights in China should not be questioned. But sincerity does not mean impartiality. Their viewpoints regarding the situation of China’s human rights are often biased, largely due to the fact that few of them have an objective and thorough understanding of the real situation within the country. It is no doubt that China still has a long way to go in improving its situation with respect to human rights. There are currently many problems. The Chinese government still has a lot work to do in dealing with this matter. But by and large, the human rights situation has been gradually improving over the past few decades.

It is a cliché to claim improvement of China’s human rights by referring to how many people have been lifted out of poverty. Economic progress does not necessarily improve the human rights situation. However, it is an indispensable precondition for improving human rights. Without satisfying basic needs, it is impossible for people to have a strong motivation to defend their human rights and to make efforts to improve the rights of others. In this regard, the Chinese government’s long-standing commitment to developing China’s economy has played an important part in creating favourable conditions for improving the human rights of the Chinese people. With the rapidly growing economy, Chinese society has become more dynamic and more tolerant. Chinese people, especially the younger generations, are increasingly vocal about defending their rights and also more enthusiastic in offering support to the disadvantaged groups in society. With the younger generations gaining more influence in society, China will most certainly improve its human rights in the future.

It is disappointing to see most of British journalists and commentators fail to make a balanced judgement on China’s human rights. They are inclined to criticise the Chinese government’s wrongdoings without realizing how much the Chinese government has done to help improve human rights in China. From their perspective, a communist government like like that in China cannot improve human rights because only democracies purportedly cherish human rights. Therefore, they habitually exaggerate any scandals of human right violations in China and invariably criticise the Chinese government for such wrongdoings. Whether they realize it or not, their pride in their country’s superiority in advocating and protecting human rights leads to prejudice regarding China’s human rights situation.

Improvement of human rights in any country is a long-term process. It takes time, patience and hard-work. No country has a perfect record of human rights. Britain today has a high standard in protecting human rights. However, the British government was recently accused of violating disabled people’s human rights because of its welfare reforms. British people are proud of their traditions of protecting human rights because of the Magna Carta heritage. But in the past, it was a human rights violator in the eyes of many countries.

For the Chinese people, Britain was once a notorious human rights violator when selling opium to the country and launching two wars against it. At this stage in time, ‘human rights’ was not a popular concept in the West. At that time, the European countries did not have any regard for human rights when they were busy in their colonial activities in other Continents. It was of course not a priority for the West to advocate human rights at that time. As many people in the West have argued, human rights are universal values throughout the world. Human rights should be universal across both space and time. Innocent Chinese people who suffered in the opium wars of course had their human rights. It may be too much to ask for an apology from the British government for its past wrongdoings during the opium wars, but the British journalists and commentators should be well aware of such a fact when criticising China’s human rights. They should realize that like Britain, China needs more time to improve its human rights.

Most British journalists and commentators are instinctively prone to sympathize with the so-called human right defenders for Tibetans and Uighurs.  They believe what the protestors say without questioning whether their demands truly represent the majority and without realizing that maybe these activists tell only one part of a story which intends to mislead people. Putting aside the question as to whether most Tibetans and Uighurs want independence, let’s face a more important question: will the Tibetans and Uighurs be really better off in terms of human rights if they achieve independence? There will not be a straightforward answer if taking a look at the current human rights situation in Iraq.

The situation in Tibet and Xinjiang is much more complicated than most people have imagined. Economic, social, religious and political problems merge together in a complex manner in these provinces. They cannot be solved overnight. Solving these problems will take a much longer time and requires constant effort. The Chinese government has been making tremendous efforts to support economic development of these two regions, albeit with variable levels of success. It should adjust its policies, making use of more soft power to deal with problems in Tibet and Xinjiang. Heavy-handed measures will only breed more hatred and hostility among the local people, thereby never achieving stability in these regions. But it is unjustified to claim that the Chinese government treats Tibetans and Uighurs as second class citizens. They are treated equally in China as the Han Chinese are. In terms of education, they enjoy more privileges than Han Chinese. In Chinese Universities, Han Chinese students get along well with Tibetan students and Uighur students.

China’s billions of pounds of investment will help boost Britain’s economy and create thousands of jobs for British people. It is shocking that Rosa Freedman alleges that China’s investment is blood money comparable to that of Congo’s blood diamonds. Make no mistake: the Chinese government does not use money to fund war against other countries. Such an allegation also disappoints millions of Chinese people who work hard to support their families just like any their British counterparts and who are the real driving force of China’s economic miracle. The Chinese government does not force people to work in order to build China’s economic might. Chinese people work hard simply because they want a better life and they want to create a better future for their children. There is indeed no difference between the Chinese and the British in this respect.

Undeniably, the Chinese government should do more to improve human rights in China. It should be more tolerant of political dissidents. Instead of silencing them, it should allow them to voice their opinions. It should be more confident that it has more to offer than the messages of the political dissidents and is therefore more capable of capturing the hearts and minds of most Chinese people. It should also give more freedom to social media. Otherwise, rumours can always find receptive ears. In addition, the Chinese government should make more effort to respect and protect the culture, values and religion of ethnic minorities. Otherwise, investment in economic development will only create more grievances and resistance. Also, it should take strong action to prevent local governments from confiscating farmers’ land in the name of local economic development. Losing the support of the farmers will weaken the foundation of its rule. Indeed, as President Xi Jinping points out, there is always room for improvement of human rights in China.

Xu Ruike has recently completed a PhD at the School of Politics and IR, University of Nottingham. Image Credit: CC by Ben G/flickr.