Members of the media gather inside a police cordon outside the Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing where Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng was staying on May 3, 2012. Chen appealed to US officials to help get him out of China. Photo: AFP
Chinese blind activist Chen Guangcheng recently embarked on a visit to European Union. During his visit, Chen was scheduled to receive the first ever "Westminster Award" on May 20, which is Europe's recognition for Chen's involvement in China's human rights causes. The award shows that Chen is still viewed by the West as a "hero" against the Chinese system.
Unsurprisingly, Chen continued preaching for attention toward China's human rights situation, as an EU-China human rights dialogue will be held in Beijing in June.
He warned the situation will go backwards if the issue isn't pursued more actively.
Around this time last year, Chen left China for the US after he created huge waves by seeking refuge in the American Embassy in Beijing. A year's absence from China seems to have made Chen fall out of sync with the changes here.
In fact, what Chen said during his European visit, for example, that more pressure should be applied to officials who abuse human rights, is not new to the Chinese public.
As awareness of individual rights grows in China, officials have already learned the importance of the issue and respect for human rights is gradually being integrated into governance.
Empowered by social media, rights abuse scandals are more easily exposed and made into national issues. On Weibo, China's twitter-like social media platform, the sharpest criticism against government can be seen every day, posing enormous pressure to officials of various levels.
It cannot be denied that the human rights record in China is far from being perfect. But today, fewer and fewer officials dare ignore the importance of human rights. The issues in focus, for example, family planning policy and labor camps, are intensively debated among domestic media.
There are many grassroots activists in China, but Chen is given the most attention by Western politicians and human rights organizations. Willingly or not, Chen is playing a highly politicized role in international politics that is out of his own control.
Chen called for tougher international action to press China's human rights issues.
The West has been using human rights as a political tool against China for a long while, and it is having less actual effect over China as it is believed progress in improving human rights in the country can only be best achieved by its own people.