China today will undergo its second Universal Periodic Review – a comprehensive examination of a country’s human rights record by the United Nations Human Rights Council – amid concern about reports that the government has arrested outspoken activists in the run-up to the assessment. Despite the Chinese government’s written submission to the UN touting its “robust system of human rights safeguards,” a spring 2013 Pew Research Center poll showed that relatively few around the world believe individual liberties are respected in China.
A median of just 36% across 38 nations surveyed said the Chinese government respects the personal freedoms of its people. Large majorities in the U.S. and EU nations surveyed are critical of China’s treatment of its citizens. This is especially true in Germany (87%), France (86%), Spain (84%), and Italy (82%) where roughly eight-in-ten or more said the Chinese government does not respect people’s freedoms. Japan doled out the harshest criticism of all countries surveyed, with an abysmal 5% saying China respects citizens’ rights versus 88% saying it does not.
In contrast, positive ratings for the Chinese government’s rights record can be found in several predominantly Muslim countries. For instance, six-in-ten or more view China’s treatment of its people positively in Lebanon (68%), Pakistan (65%), and Indonesia (60%). On balance, China also received largely positive ratings in the six sub-Saharan Africa nations polled, although many people in these countries do not offer an opinion on this question.
Beijing’s human rights record is poorly regarded in many nations, although Iran and Saudi Arabia fared even worse. Majorities in most countries surveyed said the government of Iran does not respect individual liberties, with a median of only 11% saying Iran respects its people’s freedoms. Saudi Arabia also does not fare well (a median of just 18% say the kingdom respects freedoms).
The U.S. achieved the highest ratings of the four countries, nearly doubling China with a median of 70% saying the American government respects civil liberties, though it should be noted the survey was conducted prior to Edward Snowden’s revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.