Expanding China’s Influence in the International Human Rights Regime Analysis of UN UPR Recommendations

Comparative Politics
Authoritatian Regimes
Human Rights
International Regimes

Kim, Hyunkyu and Sanghoon Park. 2022. “Expanding China’s Influence in the International Human Rights Regime Analysis of UN UPR Recommendations.”


Hyunkyu Kim

Political Science, University of South Carolina

Political Science, Univeristy of South Carolina University


January 2023


Do Chinese-led international regimes influence human rights discourse on China? China has taken the lead in establishing international regimes since President Xi Jinping took office, and many countries have joined them. Countries that belong to Chinese-led international regimes are more greatly exposed to be influenced by China, and their responses toward Chinese human rights issues are more likely to be positive than those that are not involved with these regimes. This paper looks at how the memberships in Chinese-led international regimes affect the responses toward Chinese human rights issues in international relations. We employ 809 recommendations to China from participants in the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UN UPR) between 2009 and 2018. Using ordinal logistic regression models, we find that as the number of Chinese-led international regime membership increases, the states in the UN UPR are less likely to make shaming recommendations to China. Furthermore, we use latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) analysis to examine how the contents of recommendations to China differ before and after the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), one of China’s international regimes. The findings also show that the states avoid bringing up sensitive human rights issues with China after joining the AIIB.


This paper investigates how countries participating in Chinese-led international regimes change their attitudes toward Chinese human rights issues before and after joining the regimes. We utilize the data set from the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UN UPR). The UN UPR differs from other human rights reports in that it is based on dialogue between the countries involved. You can see which countries have made recommendations to China on human rights. Furthermore, even if China refuses to cite a recommendation, we can analyze it thoroughly because the UN UPR covers all recommendations regardless of acceptance. Because of these characteristics, it is possible to understand how the human rights discourse has evolved in the relationship between China and the countries that participate in Chinese-led international regimes. We anticipate that as more countries participate in the international regimes led by China, countries will make more positive changes in making recommendations on China’s human rights issues within the UN UPR. Furthermore, we examine the text of the UN UPR recommendation to investigate how countries participating in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a typical international organization led by China, demonstrate changes in China’s human rights issues before and after joining.

An Existing Theory of Naming and Shaming

Existing studies assume that the state is the primary actor with direct influence over human rights; however, non-state actors, such as inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), are the actors who induce the state to avoid human rights violations and to adhere to international laws or norms in terms of international human rights. These non-state actors can form a transnational network to share information and borrow from one another to exert social pressure on the state to comply with the international community’s human rights-related norms (Keck and Sikkink, 1998; Risse and Sikkink, 1999). Through a naming and shaming strategy that exposes and criticizes the state of human rights violations on a global level, IGOs and NGOs impose tangible and intangible costs on human rights violators both at home and abroad. Shamers expect that it results in a significant change in the infringing country’s behavior (Franklin, 2008; 2015; Kim, 2015; Murdie, 2014a). However, under the Westphalia tradition of international order, which recognizes a sovereign state’s independent jurisdiction, the influence of non-state actors on state actors’ human rights behavior is limited. Therefore, this project concentrated on the UN UPR to supplement these limitations.

United Nations’ Universal Periodic Reviews

We study the UN UPR, an international human rights regime in which interactions between actors at the national level occur. The UN UPR system is divided into three stages. At each session, a working group of 47 UN member states reviews the human rights situation. Each review considers 14 (1st Session) or 12 (2nd and 3rd Sessions) countries. In the first phase, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) collects reports.

Under the institutionalized conditions of national-level naming and shaming strategies, states can use recommendations related to human rights discourse as a kind of signal. This stigma allows countries to use an instilling shame and taking sides strategy. As a result, in the current naming and shaming strategy, the passive state actor who is shamed for violating human rights has the option of refuting such shaming or improving human rights. They can, however, change their position to become an active executor of the naming and shaming strategy in order to influence other actors within the UN UPR system (Terman and Voeten, 2018)

Active state actors who can directly participate in human rights discourse and exchange reviews, opinions, and recommendations on the human rights agenda with other countries face difficulties in deciding with whom to interact and what to discuss. Identification issues, in particular, play an important role in the mutual dialogue process, in which questions and recommendations are made and responses from the countries under review are received. To improve international reputation and gain a competitive advantage in human rights discourse through the UN UPR, recommendations must be prepared in the most efficient manner possible while also minimizing the cost of humiliating recommendations. States must decide which parties will cooperate and which will be considered adversaries in order to accomplish this. Countries are using international institutions to address the issue of identification.

Chinese-led International Regimes Formation

International cooperation, according to neoliberal institutionalism, fails when there is a high cost and information asymmetry. Furthermore, an international regime acts as a kind of management mechanism in the interdependence, increasing opportunities for dialogue among countries and making it easier to establish a negotiating forum. States can use an international regime to reduce information costs by predicting not only their current intentions but also their future behaviors.

Participating in the international regime established by Western countries, China attempted to avoid sensitive issues and expressed concern for issues beneficial to Chinese interests in order to avoid conflict with other countries. This changed as China’s political and economic power grew rapidly, and China is now regarded as one of the world’s great powers. On the one hand, China achieved its objectives by consistently advocating for reform in the international regime established by Western countries, but on the other, it broke away from it and established its own international regime. To put it simply, China is attempting to divide the world by establishing Chinese-led international regimes.


This study investigates the relationship between Chinese-led international institution memberships and behavior of human rights discourse centered on China in the UN UPR as a specific case. The UN UPR reviews for Chinese human rights include recommendations requiring China to guarantee a set of rights related to labor, disabilities, and migrant work. However, the Chinese government has rejected or rarely accepted many of these recommendations on the grounds of non-interference in internal relations. In the traditional naming and shaming framework, China was in a passive position and restricted to improving human rights. However, the UN UPR sytem allows China to refute the applied pressure or even for China to apply pressure on other countries. We anticipate that the international regimes established by China to project its own interests will serve as indicators of who will be supportive of Chinese interests or not. It is reasonable to suppose that participants in Chinese-led international institutions have sent a signal to the international community that the interests and preferences of China and the member states are homogeneous, and that the member states are more likely to side with China on human rights issues. As a result, we can draw the testable hypothesis listed below.

Hypothesis: When a country joins more (less) Chinese-led international institutions, it is more likely to make favorable (unfavorable) UN UPR recommendations to China.

Preliminary Examination

Figure 1. Distribution of membership for Chinese-led international regimes

Figure 2. Ordinal Logistic Model of Chinese-led Regime Memberships on UN UPR Recommendation Severity

Figure 3. Predicted Probabilities of Chinese-led Regime Memberships