The EU’s Human Rights Dialogue With China: Quiet Diplomacy and Its Limits

Western governments and many prominent Western academics buy the idea that the best way to influence China’s human rights policies is through informal diplomatic discussions about individual cases and Chinese laws rather than through public means, such as sanctions and UN resolutions. Kinzelbach exposes this as a myth. Employing remarkable interviews and archival and historical research, she builds a convincing case that this quiet approach is not only useless but also counterproductive. She shows how the Chinese cleverly employ closed-door sessions with the EU not only to deflect Western criticism but also to train rising officials in how to counter it in public. Kinzelbach faults the EU's decentralized structure and its analysts’ naiveté for Europeans’ misplaced faith in private dialogue. But this seems insufficiently cynical: she assumes that eu states actually want to prioritize an effective human rights policy toward China and are willing to pay a price for it. But perhaps they simply seek to deflect their own domestic political pressure to play tough with China. Still, this is not just the best study of Western human rights policy toward China and of informal human rights dialogue in print; it is also one of the best microanalyses of a sensitive contemporary policy issue that I have ever read. 

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