Peter A Allard School of Law

Writing "Exporting Virtue?": Intersecting Personal Concern and Scholarly Interest

Jan 28, 2021

Pitman B. Potter, Emeritus Professor of Law, Peter A. Allard School of Law

My new book, Exporting Virtue? China’s International Human Rights Activism in the Age of Xi Jinping (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2021), emerged from a combination of personal concern over human rights in China and academic interest in understanding the normative and operational conditions for China’s human rights policies and practices, and their implications. Completing the book in the midst of horrifying reporting on internment camps in Xinjiang, suppression of religion and dissent, abuse of rights defenders and a myriad of other examples, I nonetheless avoided itemizing litanies of abuse, relying instead on the invaluable contributions of others in this regard. Instead, I focused on developing a conceptual framework for understanding the orthodoxy of China’s human rights policy and practice and the Party/state’s efforts to internationalize it. Emerging from a series of articles on discrete dimensions of human rights in China, Exporting Virtue? examines how China under the leadership of Xi Jinping has worked to change international human rights standards to accommodate its interests.

As I detailed in my previous book, Assessing Treaty Performance in China: Trade and Human Rights (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014), China’s rise to prosperity has seen multiple tensions with international standards of law and governance. Against that background, Exporting Virtue? examines human rights as an example of the PRC’s increasing international assertiveness. The book relies on original source Chinese and English language documents as well as media reports, policy briefs, and scholarly publications. Chapter One explains historical and normative contexts for PRC human rights law and policy and sets forth the contours of regime orthodoxy. Chapter Two examines China’s challenges to international human rights standards through the UN Human Rights Council and other agencies. Chapter Three offers a case study on PRC efforts to internationalize domestic policies controlling political expression. Chapter Four details China’s efforts to internationalize its human rights standards through foreign economic relations. Chapter Five presents case studies on PRC coordination of trade policy with human rights in labour and environmental protection. The Conclusion summarizes the book’s findings and offers suggestions for policy response

I hope this effort will prove useful in several contexts. First, the book’s focus reveals the potential for China’s abusive human rights practices to be normalized through promotion of their underlying policies and principles internationally. Secondly, the book’s treatment of China’s international human rights activism illustrates the consequences of a fractured international consensus on clear and enforceable human rights standards. Finally, examining the content and process of China’s efforts to disseminate its human rights orthodoxy internationally contributes to comparative law and politics discourses on spreading authoritarianism. Couched in terms of virtue but used as a justification for oppression, China’s international human rights activism invites critical engagement by scholars, policymakers, and the international community. This volume is a step in that direction.


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