In This Review

China and the International Human Rights Regime, 1982–2017
China and the International Human Rights Regime, 1982–2017
By Rana Siu Inboden
Cambridge University Press, 2021, 320 pp

China in the post-Mao period has not tried to deny or destroy the international human rights regime, but it has worked to shape the regime in its favor, usually in ways that weaken it. Inboden’s revealing behind-the-scenes case studies show how China’s human rights diplomacy has become increasingly sophisticated. When the UN Convention Against Torture was drafted, in the early 1980s, China was relatively passive. But during negotiations over the convention’s optional protocol, in the 1990s, it worked (along with the United States and others) to weaken the ability of an independent anti-torture subcommittee to inspect places of detention in signatory states. In the following decade, when the UN’s new Human Rights Council was writing its rules of operation, China worked with others to block proposals that would have made the council more effective, such as a human rights good-behavior requirement for states to join the council. The book’s third case study tracks China’s use of the compliance-monitoring committee of the International Labor Organization as a venue to trade favors with like-minded regimes that want to avoid scrutiny. With well-staffed missions in Geneva and New York, China is a player wherever human rights norms are shaped and applied.