China is a country with thousands of years' continuous autocratic rule with the associated atrocious human rights records, which continue into this day. Doubtlessly, a nation which stifles freedom of expression and does not encourage independent thought and responsibility will not have a satisfactory human rights record. China is such a nation. The notion of 'human rights' is relatively new to Chinese leadership. The concept was introduced by the West after China started to open up its economy in the late 1970s after the death of Mao.
Are there any severe human rights violations in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, and the European democracies? If not, why not? It is because the governments of these nations have a limited power, which is restrained by a certain years of tenure, and is legitimised by their citizens; whereas Chinese government's legitimacy does not come from the people, but from a military victory in the Civil War in 1949, making the Party's rise to power no different from any other dynastic change in Chinese history. No matter how inhumanely its people are treated, its rule remains intact.
Therefore, whether a country has a good human rights record or not totally depends on its political system. An autocratic and dictatorial political system is a breeding ground for human rights abuses, as is the case with China. If we cannot obliterate this breeding ground to cure the fundamental problem, but rather hope that the Chinese government will volunteer to improve its human rights record as a result of human rights talks, it is akin to going fishing in the wrong hole, which is ridiculous.
The Tiananmen crackdown in 1989 shocked the world, placing Chinese human rights issues under international scrutiny forever. Australia took the lead in the dialogue with China on human rights issues at that time. The Australian Human Rights Delegation visited China in July 1991 and again in November 1992, paving the way for regular human rights talks in the future. But such dialogue is truly impotent in securing any improvement in Chinese human rights.
Has China improved its human rights record after dialogue with Australia and the other Western nations? Not at all.
The West has been infirm and irresolute when faced with confrontation against tyrannical autocracies. This is a high level political conflict between justice and evil, where evil seems to be persistent and tenacious, and justice appears to be perfunctory and complacent.
The evidence is clear that human rights violations in China will not improve under the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party. As long as the current political situation continues to exist, human rights violations in China will continue unchecked.
Chinese authorities continue to maintain a wide range of restrictions that deny Chinese citizens their right to freedom of speech as guaranteed under China's Constitution. They continue to misuse and manipulate vague criminal laws to imprison prominent high calibre intellectuals, as in the case of Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in an act of defiance against significant world pressure for his immediate release.
Since the end of 2010, the mafia-style of treatment of dissidents triggered a spate of brutal corporal punishments of prominent writers and lawyers like Yu Jie, who had previously received an audience with former US President George W. Bush, Teng Biao, a well-known human rights defence lawyer, and so many others. These ethical academics and professionals have been locked away and silenced, too many of them forced to endure harsh imprisonment terms and physical torture.
Human rights violations are rampant throughout China. Since 2009, over 25 Tibetans have self immolated as a desperate cry for help to the world to do something to save Tibetans from this ruthless and barbaric 'governance at gunpoint'. This year, on 23 January 2012, Chinese security fired indiscriminately on hundreds of Tibetans who were participating in a peaceful public protest to protect their rights, with several shot dead and over 60 seriously injured. It is not unusual for Chinese security to shoot to kill at peaceful protests. The West takes public note of the human rights violations in China and frequently expresses concern at the criminal behaviour of the regime. Does the Chinese government care about the criticism of the international community? No! The Chinese government just ignores it because it knows that the West is not serious and that there are no adverse consequences to them if they continue with this behaviour. Therefore the Chinese government remains intractable regarding any changes to its human rights violations.
Australian-Chinese human rights talks have now been going on for over twenty years. As with all other human rights talks between democratic nations and China, the Australian effort has also proved to a dud. All human rights dialogues with China are ineffective and only serve as perfunctory political etiquette for Western leaders to display to their voters. To continue working on a trajectory that is destined to be fruitless is unwise. Therefore, we are not over optimistic about the potential for any positive outcomes through the strategy of talking about the subject. Nevertheless, I do not object to making the effort, albeit that it is our view that the current vacuous coaxing and diplomatic posturing being espoused during so called high level talks with China will not result in any changes at all to human rights violations in China.
If one sincerely wants to prompt China to improve its human rights record, one should fundamentally aim at prompting a change to China's current political system. Only if China undertakes political reforms and becomes a democracy can its human rights record begin to improve.