In This Review

Rights Beyond Borders: The Global Community and the Struggle Over Human Rights
Rights Beyond Borders: The Global Community and the Struggle Over Human Rights
By Rosemary Foot
Oxford University Press, 2000, 260 pp

In this insightful examination of China's post-1978 engagement with global human rights, Foot observes that Beijing's desire to be seen as a responsible great power has slowly drawn it into a discourse on human rights with the outside world. This process reached a turning point in 1998 with its signing of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Given the obvious threats that such treaties pose to an authoritarian state, Beijing's signature on all the major United Nations covenants and its hosting of U.N.-sponsored human rights visits have been surprising. Indeed, official conceptions of rights have gradually shifted away from their Marxist-Leninist roots toward established universal notions. Foot argues that the forces at work in China are the same ones that are diffusing human rights norms around the world, as increasingly dense networks of transnational groups team up with U.N. organizations to engage member governments in "rights talk." China has become enmeshed in the global human rights regime even as it has questioned that regime's authority and impartiality. Foot is careful not to claim that these processes have fundamentally changed China's domestic politics, but she does show that Beijing seeks political legitimacy -- and is therefore sensitive to outside opinion.