China is drawing up a four-year plan to improve the country's human rights record, state media reported Wednesday, but it will likely focus on improving living standards rather than granting greater freedoms.
Human rights are a sensitive subject in China, which complains that Western countries are unfairly critical and points to its success in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the last three decades.
The new plan also comes after a widespread crackdown on dissidents, lawyers and other activists earlier this year.
The 2012-2015 blueprint is the second of its kind and has the "aim of expanding democracy, enhancing the rule of law, improving the people's livelihood and safeguarding human rights," said Wang Chen, director of the State Council Information Office. His comments in a speech Tuesday appeared in Wednesday's edition of China Daily.
Beijing defines human rights primarily in terms of improving living conditions for its 1.3 billion people and maintains strict controls over free speech, religion, political activity and independent social groups. It says a country should define human rights taking into account its own level of economic development and social systems.
Earlier this year, fearful of Middle East-style uprisings spreading to China, the communist government launched a crackdown in which dozens of well-known lawyers and activists vanished, were interrogated or detained for alleged subversion.
Wang said the cause of human rights in China is "still facing many difficulties and challenges," partly because of wide gaps in incomes, rising inflation and increasing social conflicts caused by illegal land seizures. Protesters often complain of local authorities unfairly taking their land.
China's first action plan to improve human rights ran from 2009-2010. Wang said the plan's successes were noticeable in areas of development, education, political rights, ethnic minorities, women, children, elderly and the disabled.
These included abolishing the death penalty for 13 types of economic nonviolent crimes, prohibiting law enforcement officers from obtaining confessions by torture and illegal detention, and exempting 130 million rural students from paying school tuition fees.