China accused the US of practicing “widespread human rights abuses”, including child labor and cyber-surveillance. The remarks were evoked by the US’s criticism of China in its annual human rights record. In Washington’s 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the US said China remained an “authoritarian state”, despite the removal of the nation’s refuted system of re-education through labor and the equally as derisive one-child policy.
“Repression and coercion, particularly against organisations and individuals involved in civil and political rights advocacy and public interest issues, ethnic minorities, and law firms that took on sensitive cases,” stated the Washington report.
In its defence, China hit back, accusing the United States of practicing its own infringements of human rights. In a comprehensive response issued by the nation’s official state press agency, Xinhua News Agency, China accused the US of having “carefully concealed and avoided mentioning its own human rights problems.”
China’s damming report paid special attention to the Prism program. China referred to the US surveillance system as a “blatant violation of international law” and that it “seriously infringes on human rights”.
Prism, however, was not the only way the US has been violating human rights, continued China. The United States’ “rampant gun violence” was also mentioned in China’s report.
“In 2013, 137 people died in 30 mass killings, which caused four or more deaths each, in the United States,” it said.
US drone strikes also came under attack. China’s official news agency spoke of the drone strikes to Pakistan, which is of course a close ally to China.
“The US has carried out 376 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, causing deaths of up to 926 civilians,” said the report.
China has been long associated with practicing child labor. What the government conveniently renamed “Educational Labor”, involved schools allowing children to come to school to do work, like growing and harvesting crops.
In December 2013, the standing committee of the National People’s Congress adopted a resolution to end the controversial education labor scheme, according to the Xinhua News Agency. China’s slating of the US for alleged use of child laborers in farming could be argued to be ironic and hypocritical.
As well as criticizing the US for its apparent use of child labor in farming, the derogatory report also touched upon America’s use of solitary confinement in prisons and unemployment.
Qin Gang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the US was exercising “double standards”.
“The United States always wants to gossip and remark about other countries’ situations, but ignores its own issues. This is a classic double standard,” Qin said in a press statement.
Belittling the US as “wanting to be the grand master of human rights”, Qin said China’s own report focused on human rights in the US and will allow people to make up their own mind about whether the United States really is as guiltless as its annual human rights report perceives it to be.
Human rights have long been a sore point between China and the US. This long-standing hostility was heightened in 1989 when America imposed sanctions on China after the brutal crushing of pro-democracy demonstrations in Tienanmen Square. China’s determination to uncover the United States’ apparent human rights violations might be ironic and even farcical coming from a nation that has a history of documented widespread human rights breaches.
Farcical or not, we cannot ignore the accusations. With regards to Prism, China’s report is not the first time the NSA’s controversial spy program has been accused of breaking human rights. In June 2013, nine major international civil liberties groups claimed that Prism is an “evident breach of international conventions on human rights”.
The claim coincided with a major summit that took place in Dublin in 2013 between the European Union, the United States. A joint statement between the civil liberty groups, read:
“Recent reports indicate that the US government has the ability to acquire and monitor the content of communications and other electronic data, including location data, from international users of popular internet services in real-time.
“Such vast and pervasive state surveillance violates two of the most fundamental human rights: the right to privacy and to freedom of expression.”
When the Prism scandal was leaked by Edward Snowden in June 2013, worldwide controversy, anger and debate was ignited. Almost ten months later, the NSA surveillance outrage still acts as a catalyst for global enmity towards the United States.
The fact that it’s China which is criticizing America’s so-called violations certainly raises a few eyebrows in terms of who is practicing hypocrisy – China failing to acknowledge its own domestic security and intelligence apparatus.
Nonetheless, it is difficult to argue the NSA’s widespread use of surveillance doesn’t infringe human rights. As a consequence it is extremely difficult for the US to maintain the high ground on China’s human rights violations – much to the delight of China, which was all too quick to point this out.