«Identifying with sinicized Human Rights? EU-China Human Rights Diplomacy as a process of symmetrical socialization »

by Thomas STIEGLER | Draft 2014.9


In the shadows of rising economic interdependence and obstinate conceptual gaps, this paper is interested in explaining the dynamics of another persistent item on the EU-China bilateral agenda: Human Rights Diplomacy (HRD).
Analysing references to human rights in EU-China summit-level Joint Communiqués since 1998, this paper makes an alternative attempt to establish, qualify and explain discursive changes:
My analysis finds that while the EU has moved to accommodate Chinese positions of cultural relativism (“equality and mutual respect”) and cooperation (“dialogue”) to the detriment of espousing the universality and binding quality of human rights, China increasingly discursively associates itself with a “human rights cause”.
Qualifying these changes as deep, bi-directional, gradually accelerating and costly to reverse, I argue that they are ill-conceived of as mere strategic adaptations. Instead, a model of “symmetrical socialization” is introduced to capture a process through which both sides activate and accept alternative scripts of ‘appropriate foreign policy’:
Therein, China activates the EU’s “Mediating Power” identity through relocating HRD into the field of “relational governance” transforming its prime objective to “non-confrontation”. The EU, on the other hand, succeeds in activating a Chinese “Responsible Power” identity by cultivating the practise of “speaking human rights” as a prerequisite to gaining international esteem.
While successfully shifting the red lines of acceptable HRD, these discursive ‘agents’ of socialization, are yet to cause internalized changes as HRD rhetoric is decoupled from a domestic role-conception as a Normative Power (EU) and attempts to act as discourse shaper on HRD as an Emerging Power (PRC).
Based on these findings, I conclude that in crediting both sides with socializing powers on HRD, research can gain a deeper understanding of on-going identity transformations – namely as discursive re-constructions of appropriate foreign policy.

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