Human Rights Dialogues as Instruments of EU Foreign Policy: China Case Study

About the Project

This research project studies human rights dialogues as an instrument of EU foreign policy, focusing in particular on the EU-China human rights dialogue. This detailed case study documents and analyzes the EU’s human rights diplomacy vis-à-vis China covering the years 1995-2009. Given the confidential-ity of the human rights dialogue, little is known about its set-up, its substance, its development over time and, indeed, its impact on the human rights situation in China. The data used for the reconstruction of the dialogue and policy assessment includes public statements, classified material discovered at the EU’s historical archives in Florence, internal evaluation reports obtained under EC Regulation No. 1049/2001 regarding access to documents, confidential expert interviews and confidential document review.

The study’s findings show that the dialogue’s impact has been limited at best. A process-tracing analysis suggests that China has so far only made tactical concessions on human rights in response to pressure, not in response to persuasion. This finding falsifies the assumption that the success of the dialogue depends on communication dynamics which are dominated by argumentative rationality, rather than by rhetorical action. Instead, it is concluded that China has so far not progressed far enough along the so-called spiral model of human rights norms change for persuasion strategies to be successful. Therefore, the study’s policy recommendations focus on how the European Union can reintroduce an element of conditionality in its human rights diplomacy vis-à-vis China, notably by bringing reputational pressure to bear.

The main findings were presented to the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights in a public hearing on December 1, 2009. The full study will be defended as a dissertation at the University of Vienna in 2010.

Project Data

Country: Österreich, China
Persons involved: Katrin Kinzelbach (Forschungsstipendiatin), Manfred Nowak (Betreuung)
Contact persons: Katrin Kinzelbach
Lead Organisation: Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Fundamental and Human Rights (LBI-GMR)
Partner organisations: EFSPS – European Foreign and Security Policy Studies Programme
Project start: 09/2007
Project end: 12/2009
Project completed: Yes
Funded by: Volkswagen Foundation
Programme Line LBI-GMR: Human Dignity and Public Security