During his recent state visit to the U.S., the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, seemed to acknowledge that his country needs to do more on human rights. For him to dismiss human rights issues with a mere line or two, and in such a bland abstract way, is to seriously underplay the situation in China.

China is one of the major human rights violators in the world. Freedom of speech is barely a concept there, much less a reality. Even the Internet is heavily monitored.
Human rights activists are constantly hounded, imprisoned on the thinnest of pretexts, or shot and beaten off the streets if they dare lobby publicly for even the tiniest of the freedoms that we in the West take for granted.

It is anyone’s guess how many “political prisoners” are currently languishing in China’s jails, but a measure of the official Chinese attitude to human rights was in its reaction to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the imprisoned campaigner Liu Xiaobo, which it described as “an obscenity.”

Outside its own borders, China is currently doing no-strings-attached business with some of the worst dictators and human rights violators in Africa and, in the process, completely undermining Western attempts to link democratic practices with development aid.

So yes, China does need to do more on human rights – an awful lot more, both at home and abroad. Whether it will or not is another matter altogether, irrespective of what encouraging noises Hu Jintao might make for a western audience.

China’s record on human rights, and the fact that Hu Jintao’s remark wasn’t carried on its state-run media, would lead one to suspect that excitement at this stage is premature.
I certainly won’t be holding my breath in anticipation.
John O’Shea
Founder, GOAL
Co. Dublin, Ireland