China decided against using an armed drone in Myanmar to kill a drug lord who was wanted for the murder of 13 Chinese sailors. Instead, they captured him alive, and brought him to trial in China. To most of the world, this move was laudable. Compared with the United States of America, China seems to have gotten its respect for sovereignty and territoriality down pat, not to forget its understanding of the need to fair trial.
While it is appreciable in comparison with the US approach of drone attacks and targeting terrorists in pursuit of justice and self-defence, China is still far away from the position it should be in, vis-a-vis international human rights. A country that continues to impose heavy curbs on the freedoms of expression, association and religion, opposing the independence of judiciary and freedom of the press, while all the time suppressing human rights defenders and organizations, through extrajudicial measures. China’s history is fraught with human rights violations – the country with an authoritarian rule presently has blood on its hands and incidents like Tiananmen Square, Tibet and Xinjiang in its history books.
On the domestic front, China has heavy limits on the enjoyment of rights, and also allows the continued thriving of a system of forced confessions under torture. And yet, on the international front, China projects itself as one that adheres to international law and respects the core values it is built on, namely, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Perhaps a clever policy to follow in that China can assert that what it does within its own country is nobody’s business, China is forgetting that the birth of the individual as a subject of international law is a sign that the globalization of human rights has indeed occurred.
The people of China for their part are raising flags in pursuit of their concerns, as plenty of protests are mushrooming across the country. 
It doesn’t take much of an expert to see the logic behind China’s stand on global political events: as China is deciding coldly against any military intervention in the Middle East, it isn’t projecting a moralist stance in international law, but is preventing its positive role in the creation of a precedent that can be used against itself.

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Comment by Kirthi Jayakumar on March 7, 2013 at 9:58am

Thank you Devin! I really enjoyed listening to Harry Harding's description of what he calls as the "populist conservative party" - thank you for sharing!  He encapsulates the entire thing so beautifully in one line (which is not quoted verbatim here): That China argues for democracy at the international level, but argues for hegemony at the domestic level.

Comment by Devin Stewart on March 7, 2013 at 9:16am

Kirthi, interesting post. China scholar Harry Harding described this duality in US-China relations at a panel I convened in 2008. Let me know what you think: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23op9jshZgM

Comment by Kirthi Jayakumar on March 6, 2013 at 10:29pm

Hi Andreas!

Thank you for reading my post and for commenting on it. I do think it is possible that what you are saying is true: that indeed, sovereignty weighs heavier for China than human rights principles.

Just to give you an insight into what went into my conclusion above: it was just that IMHO, the hardliner stance and oppressive handling of human rights, to me, felt like it was eating away on the morality that China exuded - to me, it appeared like the hand that rocked the cradle was the one that pinched the baby. But yes, what you pointed out is as much a possibility!

Comment by Andreas Rekdal on March 6, 2013 at 5:46pm

Interesting post, Kirthi. I do have one question, however:

Isn't it possible that China is both projecting a moralist stance in international law, and trying to avoid precedent that can be used against itself? After all, there is much disagreement as to how principles of human rights and state sovereignty should be weighed against each other. Could it be that the Chinese government principally comes down on the side of sovereignty?

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