German diplomats have given the thumbs up to efforts by China to improve the social and economic standing of Chinese citizens. The comments came from the sixth round of bilateral talks on human rights.
China has been trying to improve its human rights image
German politicians have acknowledged China's progress in granting its citizens more social and economic rights in recent years, in the sixth round of their bilateral dialogue on human rights.
The German government's commissioner for human rights and humanitarian aid, Markus Loening of the Free Democrats, said he was pleased with the first day of talks with the Chinese delegation, which included representatives from various ministries and a high-ranking judge from the Supreme People's Court.
Loening emphasized that the discussions were held in a constructive atmosphere, even over controversial issues such as the death penalty and criticism of China's frequent use of capital punishment.
"The Chinese delegation said it had the political goal to abolish the death penalty in the end," Loening said. "They did not say when. But we talked about the number of executions, and they explained … they've reduced the number of crime types for which the death penalty can be given.
"China has also introduced a type of death penalty where the sentence is suspended for two years. And if no crime is committed within these two years, then the death penalty will be turned into a lifelong sentence. And that obviously has reduced the number executions considerably," he added.
Few concrete results
China is the world's leading executioner of prisoners
Critics of the German-Chinese human rights dialog have often said the forum has never yielded any tangible results, and that, in recent years, it has served as somewhat of a fig leaf for a major expansion of economic relations between the two countries.
Marianne Heuwagen, who heads the German section of the Human Rights Watch pressure group, said the dialog could be more useful if the Chinese were pinned down to concrete measures and timetables.
"In the past we've seen only little progress in human rights in China, so the critics are right," Heuwagen said. "Therefore it's important for the bilateral dialogue to set concrete benchmarks which can be measured as time goes by. That applies to the death penalty issue.
"China could also be asked to set up a timetable for ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Those could be some of the most urgent goals, and the progress made in these fields must be measured in the future."
Credit where it's due
However, Loening said it was already a clear signal of progress that criticism of selected human rights issues in China, including the treatment of lawyers and minorities, could now be addressed more openly at the forum.
Under Premier Wen Jiabao, China has taken great leaps forward
He added that in order to have a constructive dialog, China deserved some praise for the progress it has made towards granting citizens more social and educational freedoms and rights.
"It's also important to acknowledge the way that China has fought poverty, and to acknowledge the way that literacy has spread in China. Some 90 percent of the Chinese are now able to read and write," Loening said.
"Better access to food, water and housing clearly has been a priority of the government. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have left poverty over the past decades, and that is something that we should not ignore."
The German-Chinese human rights dialog has never been completely without friction. In 2007, for instance, the Chinese government decided to suspend its participation in the forum after German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Human rights talks were resumed in the autumn of 2008.
Author: Hardy Graupner/dfm
Editor: Martin Kuebler