October 19, 2020 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1536

For China, Human Rights Cannot Be Universal

October 19, 2020 | By Anna Mahjar-Barducci*
China | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1536


On October 13, 2020, China and Russia were reelected to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2021-2023 term. In contrast to Russia, which made no triumphant statements, China rushed to congratulate itself on its re-election to the Council.

"China expresses heartfelt gratitude to member states for their support and warmly congratulates other elected members," read a press release issued by the Chinese mission to the United Nations. It continued: "China always attaches great importance to the promotion and protection of human rights. Following a path with Chinese characteristics, China has made great achievements in human rights development."[1]

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian also jubilated over the election: "This [vote] fully reflects the international community's high recognition of the development and progress of China's human rights cause and China's participation in global human rights governance."[2]

On October 16, China's Foreign Ministry denounced U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's October 13 accusations of human rights violations.[3] In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian called out the U.S. for its "terrible record on human rights and religious freedoms." He then added: "We urge Pompeo to respect the facts and stop fabricating all kinds of China-related lies. Otherwise, he will only further damage his own credibility and the image and interests of the U.S."[4]

Human Rights Council (Source:

Chinese Communist Party Mouthpiece Global Times: "China Is An Effort Builder Of Human Rights"

Ahead of the United Nations Human Rights Council election, on October 9, 2020, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece Global Times editorial for October 9, 2020, headlined "U.S. Elites No Longer Seek Truth From Facts," accused the U.S. of losing "the most basic spirit of seeking truth" from facts in politics. It stated that for the U.S., "lying for political purposes is becoming normal."[5]

The editorial particularly stressed that that the U.S. is increasingly lying about China, especially concerning human rights violations, since Washington is feeling the pressure of Beijing's rising power. "Just look at how the U.S.'s ruling power and some Western elites have viciously smeared China. They have maliciously attacked the Communist Party of China, a party that leads China's development and maintains a friendly attitude with the world. They describe China as the so-called evil force that sabotages world order, and they have defined normal competition between China and other countries, such as the US, as subversive hostility. They have also put labels on China's technological power and overseas students, regarding them as part of China's intelligence system."

Calling the U.S.'s judgment of China "arrogant" and "vicious," it continued: "No country's human rights are perfect. The U.S. and China both have problems in human rights." China, it said, "is an effort builder of human rights" and Beijing will "never maliciously persecute the rights of a certain minority or political group." It added that nevertheless, to maintain "national order," China has taken "necessary measures under its political system... The U.S. dislikes some of China's measures, and vice versa."[6]

Beijing Government White Paper: The Chinese People Have Derived "Their Own Viewpoints" On Human Rights "From Their Own Historical Conditions"

A Chinese government white paper on human rights, titled "Human Rights in China" and published by the websites of Chinese embassies and consulates,[7] explained that human rights in "old China" had been violated by the "three big mountains" – imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat-capitalism. It went on to say that since the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the human rights situation in the country "took a basic turn for the better":

"Greatly treasuring this hard-won achievement, the Chinese government and people have spared no effort to safeguard human rights and steadily improve their human rights situation, and have achieved remarkable results. This has won full confirmation and fair appraisal from all people who have a real understanding of Chinese conditions and who are not prejudiced."

The white paper went on to underline that the Chinese people have derived "their own viewpoints" on human rights, "from their own historical conditions, the realities of their own country and their long practical experience." It stressed that a country's human rights situation "should not be judged in total disregard of its history and national conditions, nor can it be evaluated according to a preconceived model or the conditions of another country or region."[8]

Chinese White Paper Echoes Russian Anti-Liberal Philosopher Dugin: Globalization Is Trying To Impose Human Rights Onto All Of Humanity, Subjecting It To Standardization Of The Western Model

The Chinese white paper "Human Rights in China" echoes the ideas of Russian anti-liberal philosopher Alexander Dugin, who challenges the Western concept of human rights. Dugin has called "the ideology of human rights" a "racist" one because it affirms the "individual" – a liberal concept – as "the only way to understand human nature." In a 2018 lecture at the China Institute of Fudan University in Shanghai, Dugin stated that the CCP is unacceptable in the "Americans' plan," so Washington tries to change China by pushing more liberalization, capitalization, and human rights.[9]

Rejecting the notion of the universalism of human rights, Dugin maintains that they, along with democracy, are local values, not universal values, as they emerge from the particular development of a single culture. "Globalization is trying to impose [human rights] onto all of humanity as something that is universal and taken for granted. This attempt implicitly argues that the values of all other peoples and cultures are imperfect, underdeveloped, and should be subject to modernization and standardization in imitation of the Western model," Dugin states.[10]

The Chinese white paper stresses this exact principle – namely, that any country's human rights situation must be seen in the context of its history and national conditions, and cannot be assessed using a "preconceived model" – i.e. a Western model.

Document No. 9 Defies The Concept Of 'Universal Values'

It is worth noting that the well-known Document No. 9, the confidential internal document circulated within the CCP on April 22, 2013 soon after Xi Jinping's March 14 election as president of the People's Republic of China, challenges this same concept of "universal values." It states:

"The goal of espousing 'universal values' is to claim that the West's value system defies time and space, transcends nation and class, and applies to all humanity... [Those espousing universal values] believe that Western freedom, democracy, and human rights are universal and eternal. This is evident in their distortion of the Party's own promotion of democracy, freedom, equality, justice, rule of law, and other such values; they claim that 'the CCP's acceptance of universal values is a victory for universal values,' that 'the West's values are the prevailing norm for all human civilization,' that 'only when China accepts Western values will it have a future,' and that 'Reform and Opening is just a process of gradually accepting universal rights.'

"Given Western nations' long-term dominance in the realms of economics, military affairs, science, and technology, these arguments can be confusing and deceptive. The goal [of such slogans] is to obscure the essential differences between the West's value system and the value system we advocate, ultimately using the West's value systems to supplant the core values of Socialism."[11]

Human Rights Are A Pretext For Smearing Smear China

According to the Global Times, what the U.S. sees as violations of human rights are actually "necessary measures" taken by China under "its own political system" in order "to maintain national order." Stressing that the U.S. and Western elites' definition of China's maintenance of order is "subjective" – that is, a view based on the West's value system, it added that the U.S.'s accusations are "detached from China's reality" and distorted by the "hegemonic" Western model.[12]

In the previous day's editorial, titled "West's Human Rights Hypocrisy [Is] Shameless" published October 8, 2020, the newspaper set out its view opposing the universalism of human rights. "Developing countries support China on human rights issues, because they are in a similar situation. They understand that China's human rights concepts and practices are in line with the country's reality."[13] It went on to state that the U.S. and the West do not really care about human rights in China, but are using the issue as a pretext for smearing China. "The last thing Western politicians, especially American politicians, accept is that lives of the Chinese people are getting better and better. They dislike China's modernization and wish that China would remain backward. Hasn't it been the core of Washington's China policy in recent years to force China to stop development? The West should stop pretending to care about human rights in China. Such hypocrisy is disgusting."[14]

"The U.S. Should Be Ashamed"

In the Global Times view, the U.S., and not China, should be scrutinized for human rights violations.[15] Stressing that the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic had failed, it added that it was therefore in  no position to lecture China:

"If they are really serious about human rights, they should first bring the COVID-19 epidemic under control in their own country, so fewer people will be infected, fewer will die, and fewer will be impoverished by the epidemic. How shameful of the U.S. to talk about human rights when it has so many deaths every day. The U.S. should be ashamed."[16]

Promoting instead the narrative that China's fight against the pandemic is a success and thus China is morally superior to the U.S., the newspaper continued: "The epidemic has shown that the Chinese government is one of the most responsible governments to people's health. China is also one of the most successful countries in the COVID-19 fight. With this example, the U.S. and Western public opinion can make a thorough check on whether their slander of the Chinese government is realistic."[17]


The reelection of China and Russia to the United Nations Human Rights Council prompted criticism from human rights groups. However, unlike Russia and other non-democratic regimes on the Council, Beijing is developing a state-sponsored anti-liberal ideology that has at its core the concept that human rights are relative and can be understood differently according to local cultural traditions.

While acknowledging the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an important document, Beijing's "Human Rights in China" white paper states:

"The evolution of the situation in regard to human rights is circumscribed by the historical, social, economic and cultural conditions of various nations, and involves a process of historical development. Owing to tremendous differences in historical background, social system, cultural tradition and economic development, countries differ in their understanding and practice of human rights. From their different situations, they have taken different attitudes towards the relevant UN conventions. Despite its international aspect, the issue of human rights falls by and large within the sovereignty of each country."[18]

Not only does China's reelection to the United Nations Human Rights Council contradict the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights – it also represents an attempt to challenge, within the international institutions, the inherent existence of universal human rights. Meanwhile, China carries on with its consistent efforts to gain the high moral ground in the international arena.

*Anna Mahjar-Barducci is Director of the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project.


[1], October 14, 2020.

[2], October 14, 2020.

October 14, 2020;, October 16, 2020.

[4], October 16, 2020.





[9], January 2, 2019

[10],%20Alexander.pdf?view=FitH, 2012.


[12], October 9, 2020.

[13], October 8, 2020.

[14], October 8, 2020.

[15], October 8, 2020.

[16], October 8, 2020.

[17], October 9, 2020.


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