To become a recognizable figure on international scene a country needs to possess or aspire to attain three characteristics: to be developed, to be democratic and to fulfill internationally recognized human rights. Notorious experience of the World War II made the countries worldwide look for general ‘platform’ for exercising human rights (HR). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 was a basis for recognizing HR of a person to be a matter of important concern and became the platform the international society was looking for. One of the acclaimed bases for human rights is country’s sovereignty. However, being important instrument, sovereignty cannot be a guarantee of HR in case a state is an isolated character on the world map and is not involved in co-operation with the other states. Above-mentioned international coexistence of the countries is recognized as international relations (IR) and various IR theories are trying to explain the character of relations between countries on international arena. International standards determine the importance of human rights being prevailing over sovereignty. Nevertheless, Chinese government shares completely opposite view on relations between sovereignty and HR. The current paper takes a deep study on the stand of Chinese relations between sovereignty and HR one needs to define international relations and IR theory China shares; view of Chinese government on relations between HR and sovereignty on the example of China’s official documents and its leaders’ statements; examples of HR violation in China and its impact on PRC sovereignty. Eventually, studying the impact of Chinese government human rights violation on country’s sovereignty may reveal that human rights infringement threatens country’s entity due to numerous evidences of separatist movement within the country resulting in some of its regions to proclaim their independency.
It is difficult to give a unique definition of international relations. Generally recognized feature of IR is its practicing in independent (sovereign) states. State sovereignty is a supreme power of governing a state through making, executing, and applying law and the ability of a country to govern its internal affairs without foreign interference. Still, these features do not make a state an isolated character on the world map. Such examples of sovereign countries’ isolation as, for example, North Korea, Libya and Iraq have notoriously proved that isolation leads to suffering of the citizens and severe violation of their rights. Practically, international relations influence not only states but every citizen in particular and the whole population affecting its welfare and exercising of the human rights.
There are various approaches to international relations which are featured by different IR theories with realism being one of the most influential of them. Basically, realists share pessimistic view on human nature and ability of countries to co-operate via negotiations and agreements. They believe that relationships between states are a matter of egotistic intentions of one government to interfere in the affairs of the other one and impose its ideology, culture and other factors; therefore, national security and state survival are the issues of the first priority. The other principles of realism consider that the only possible way to solve conflicts between countries is a war, whereas the other biggest concern of a state is reinforcement of its security. Realists also believe that government should be more concerned in the inner affairs rather than on developing country’s international relations. Classical realists share an idea of the key aim of politics being to attain, keep and use power, and belief that the basic concern of a state within international relations is protecting its sovereignty and reinforcing its national security. Therefore, the country should be concerned in improving welfare of the citizens and exercising the inner policy whereas relations with the other countries are narrowed to non-interference into each other’s processes.
To differentiate a type of international relations theory China supports is not an easy task due to the fact that there are no deep researches in this field yet. Some scholars suggest that China needs to implement ‘Western’ democratic theory and modify it in accordance with ‘Chinese character’. The others suggest that the country requires its own international theory due to its unique history and culture. During recent years many Chinese authorities started favoring multilateralism, or democratization of international relations. This approach is caused by the intention to join such international bodies of non-western character as ‘ASEAN plus three’ and be more engaged in international relations with the regional bodies. At the same time, upholding the view of state non-interference and placing sovereignty in the center of national’s interests characterizes China’s view on international relations as realism.
In terms of reflecting on Chinese government’s view on relations between HR and sovereignty in its official documents, White Paper of Human Rights in China can be mentioned. By its issuing the country has demonstrated to the world its intention to improve its system of human rights protection and its engagement in HR practicing. The White Paper contained recognition of every individual having such human rights as rights to existence and development, civil and political rights, rights of citizens to education and the others. China has safeguarded the principles and rights set by the United Nations Charter though it is firmly opposing any attempts of developed countries to make use of developing countries on the basis of HR. The White Paper also includes prospect of China concerning relation between sovereignty and HR stating the following: ‘‘China is opposed to interfering in other countries’ internal affairs on the pretext of HR and has made unremitting efforts to eliminate various abnormal phenomena and strengthen international cooperation in the field of human rights’ The White Paper outlines that the right of each individual to develop is in a wide scope a matter of interest of everyone, and stabilization of development of a person is the matter of development of the country in general. In such a way, one of the main differences between international HR standards and Chinese view on human rights is Chinese claiming that policies of HR must be formulated by each particular country on the basis of its own conditions.
The later white papers describing progress in human rights in China are frequently outlining significant development of HR although important differences between generally recognized standards of human rights and their Chinese version are preserved. Thus, the White Paper of 2012 states that HR are not secured by considering economic development and importance of corresponding rights to be supreme. It pursued the idea that it would be impossible to satisfy one’s rights and freedoms unless economics of a country is not able to satisfy one’s basic needs like being fed or clothed. The White Paper of 1991 and the later official documents on human rights in China have always been highlighting positive aspects and never mentioned any severe human violations of which Chinese government had been often accused.
Considering Chinese leaders statements on relations between HR and sovereignty, Deng Xiaoping, former leader of China, went as far as claiming sovereignty to be more important than human rights, and political freedom is less important than right to subsistence. The meeting of Chinese president Hu Jintao and American leader Barack Obama in 2011 revealed the difference between Eastern and Western view on relations between HR and sovereignty once again. Summit was dedicated to the issue of HR in China. In about a week before summit Chinese jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, who, consequently, was absent on the ceremony where he was supposed to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Many countries viewed Xiaobo’s empty seat as a symbol of human rights’ violation in China. On the summit, the sides agreed on importance of human rights exercising, though they have suggested different ways to accomplish this task. What Obama assumed to be a path to develop positive relationship between countries and protect HR in China was viewed by Chinese leader as Western attempt to destabilize country and threaten its sovereignty. On the summit, Hu Jintao insisted again that sovereignty is the country’s biggest concern saying that China needs to choose the own path and no interference into country’s internal affairs is possible.
In spite of attempts of Chinese government to safeguard its sovereignty by preventing international interference, its severe human rights violation within the country undermines its sovereignty and leads to separatism in the state. One of the headline-making cases is related to the violation of HR in Tibet in 1980s. The separatist movement in Tibet endeavored to oppose Chinese imposing ideology and severe violations of such human rights as rights to protest, political and religious rights. The website of Free Tibet mentions such outrageous actions of Chinese government as beating and torturing, frequent imprisonment without any reason and the other severe violations. Human violations caused separatist movements, which resulted in the fact that Tibet is an autonomous entity within PRC. Another example of separatism as a result of HR violation is Taiwan independence movement. In 2000, after decades of severe human violation by Chinese government, Taiwan had virtually declared its independency. Although Chinese government reacts with hostility on the non-legitimated sovereignty of this region, Taiwan independence movement is one of the brightest examples of separatism in China. One of the latest occurrences highlighted in BBC news was a pro-democratic protest in Hong Kong in September 2014 with thousands of people going out on the streets and the subsequent protest in February 2015. The history of Taiwan makes Chinese government anxious whether Hong Kong could start the same independency movement. Therefore, examples of Tibet and Taiwan as well as protests in Hong Kong reveal that human rights violation within the country leads to expansion of separatist movements.
Taking into consideration all above-mentioned, it is fair to state that sovereignty is an extremely important instrument for a country to become a distinguished figure on the international scene. Nevertheless, international standards of human rights rank them above sovereignty, which is opposite to what Chinese government thinks concerning these relations. In spite of the fact it is difficult to distinguish international relations theory Chinese government supports, it tends to be realism in terms of China’s view on sovereignty importance and policy of non-interference. Chinese government concern with sovereignty and human rights stated in White Paper of Human Rights in China and Chinese leaders’ declarations of a later period confirm that Chinese government views sovereignty as a nation’s core interest and human rights as a matter of internal policy of the country. In spite of ‘official’ development of human rights in PRC, real state of affairs in the country is of the opposite character. Numerous occurrences of human rights violation within China resulted in separatism in such its regions as Tibet and Taiwan; continuous violations provoke protests all around the country with the latest to be held in Hong Kong. Such occurrences prove that human rights violation within the state leads to separatist movements and, consequently, threatens the country’s sovereignty.