China agrees to co-operate with United Nations on human rights
Commitment to work with Human Rights Council part of broader pledge
Chinese president Xi Jinping with Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday. Photograph: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
China has said it will co-operate with the United Nations Human Rights Council, a group which has frequently censured Beijing over the years, and is prepared to invite its representatives to visit the country.
In a policy document, called the National Human Rights Action Plan, which runs to 2020, China said it would “fully participate in the work of the UN’ s human rights mechanisms, and promote the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) and other mechanisms to attach equal importance to economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights”.
Under the administration of President Xi Jinping, China has seen tighter control of civil society bodies and non-governmental organisations, as well as a wide crackdown on human rights lawyers and civil society reformers, coupled with tighter control of the media and the internet.
China bristles at criticism of its human rights record, saying it is a domestic matter, and that lifting people out of poverty is the first priority when it comes to providing human rights.
“The rule of law in safeguarding human rights needs to be further promoted and more efforts are required to realise higher levels of human rights protection,” it said.
Earlier this year, Beijing was angry after Ireland supported a US statement at the Geneva-based HRC in support of the UN commissioner’s report criticising China’s “ongoing problematic human rights record”, with particular focus on the forced return of suspected dissidents from overseas.
The issue reportedly caused a setback in efforts to get Irish beef readmitted into China, where it has been banned for 16 years as part of a ban on EU beef imports over mad cow disease, or BSE.
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said during a visit to China that the process of gaining approval for Irish beef was now back on track.
According to the full text, which was published by the official Xinhua news agency, China would co-operate with the special procedures of the HRC, “answer letters from it, and invite representatives of that body to visit China, as appropriate”.
It also said that China would conduct exchanges and co-operation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
One area where China has come in for particular criticism internationally has been in its treatment of ethnic minorities in areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang, where minorities chafe at Chinese rule and there have been violent attacks.
“The right of ethnic minorities to participate in the management of state and social affairs on an equal footing shall be guaranteed by the state,” the plan said.