BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Friday that its people today enjoy the greatest level of political and civil rights ever, in a report issued just days after the European Union and United States expressed extreme concern over a deterioration in human rights in China.
In the last five years, Chinese president Xi Jinping has presided over what rights groups decry as an elevated crackdown on the country's rights activists and lawyers, with dozens arrested and hundreds detained.
Ahead of Human Rights Day last Sunday, the European Union and the United States released statements saying they were "extremely concerned" about a deterioration of human rights in China, citing measures such as internet restrictions and detentions of lawyers.
"Chinese citizens have never before enjoyed as ample economic, social, cultural, as well as civil and political rights, as they do today," the State Council, China's cabinet, said in an annual white paper.
The paper heralded a new era where greater legal protection ensures human rights in China, citing as evidence the ruling Communist Party's recent establishment of a central leadership group to guide legal reform.
Rights group says the lack of an independent judiciary to keep a check on the ruling party leads to abuse of rights.
China rejects criticisms of its human rights record, saying that the critics place too much emphasis on political and civil rights, without recognizing the social and economic freedoms being provided to its citizens.
Diplomats from liberal democracies say that the Chinese definition is overly broad and ignores aspects like free speech that are essential to the accepted definition of human rights used by the United Nations.
China considers its human rights successes to include, for example, using law to control infringement on the health and property rights of its citizens by closing down polluting companies, according to the report.
Controversial legislation on spying, counter-espionage and internet security, as well as others in a series of new laws to bolster China's national security, are also cited as helping to protect citizen's security and property.
The paper further says that China is actively working to promote human rights overseas and to build a international legal system to protect them.
Up to August 2017, 36,000 Chinese military peacekeepers have been sent abroad to take part in UN peacekeeping operations and now have a standing force of 8,000 troops, the paper said.
(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)