National Conference on Reconciliation, Multiculturalism,Immigration and Human Rights

Anastasia Kapetas
Ph.D. candidate at the University of New South Wales

Globlalisation and Human Rights: China and the Question of Universalism

International human rights discourse and practice has always been subject to great controversy. Western engagement with Asia, and in particular, China, has radically altered the human rights landscape, confronting the discourse with the question of cultural difference. This issue has forced Western human rights scholars, activists, public and private elites back to reflect with some anxiety, upon their own cherished tenets of national and moral identity. Many human rights practitioners have argued that this confrontation with cultural difference has served to weaken the human rights project. However, other have argued that this confrontation has opened up a discursive space in which to re-conceptualise a truly global ethics, tied to a global politics. This paper will explore the more recent challenges to the legitimacy of international human rights discourses in the context of the emergence of China, the `Asian Values' debate and the processes of globalisation. Furthermore, this paper will argue that a new respect for the economic and social dimensions for human rights has emerged. Globalisation has re-drawn the boundaries of human suffering. Western human rights diplomacy has traditionally concentrated on injustices inflicted by states against citizens. The internationalisation of capital has resulted in a heightened consciousness regarding the human rights of workers. In the Asia-Pacific region, new forms of resistance are emerging and forming tentative global coalitions. Trade unions, anti-sweatshop consumer campaigns and grass-roots environmental movements are all currently engaged in re-defining the boundaries of the human rights project.

Anastasia Kapetas is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of New South Wales. She is currently researching a thesis entitled: Western Visions of Human Rights and China: Crisis and Transformation. Recent publications include:"Expanding Human Rights: China and the Asian Challenge."

Presentation Type
30 min paper

University of Technology, Sydney, 1-2 December 2000

Papers & Workshops