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Human rights protection in the Chinese context

Published May 26, 2022


Paul Tembe

Why is the People’s Republic of China (PRC) pursuing a zero Covid-19 strategy when other countries are relaxing their approaches to tackling this global public health pandemic?

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Why is there no industrial-scale embezzling or misappropriation of public funds (kleptocracy) by political leaders in the PRC as it is common practice in other polities?

Why has there been no individual or group acts of religious or racial terrorism in the PRC as happens elsewhere?

Part of the sensible answer lies in what can be termed, a human rights path development with Chinese characteristics.

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In September 2021, the Communist Party of China (CPC) released a comprehensive fourth human rights action plan, for the 2021-25 period, which details the government’s core mandate to ensure that Chinese people have rights covering areas of economic, social, political, environment and minority rights.

This is a reason why President Xi Jinping should be acknowledged for leading decisively his country in resolving the problem of absolute poverty, emphasising people-centred development, focused on contributing to dealing with global inequality, and demonstrating solidarity with the international community in addressing global crises of climate change, coronavirus, cross-border terrorism and internecine conflicts.

Those countries and leaders, chiefly in the West, who accuse the PRC of violating the human rights of some of its social groups are making these accusations out of a narrow perspective which sees the world only from their own prejudiced outlook.

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This intolerance to understand the viewpoint of “others” is responsible, as history teaches us, for acts of discrimination (slavery, colonialism, apartheid), acts of violent confrontation (regime change in Libya 2011, Ukraine 2014, Iraq 2003), and economic war (North American embargo against Cuba for 60 years and counting).

Hence President Xi, on multiple occasions in diverse contexts, has underlined the fact that, “there is no universal path to human rights development in the world”.

“In terms of human rights protection, there is no best way, only the better one.”

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To do otherwise and insist that Western human rights understanding and practice, that mainly prioritises the individual, is the only and best option and standard that should be adopted by everyone everywhere, exposes the highest form of hubris and intolerance.

Anyway, if the PRC is to be judged on its human rights record of advancing the socio-economic welfare for the majority of its citizens, then no country in the world would come close in comparison.

The fact is that China has developed and now perfected inarguably the “largest education, social security and healthcare system” ever assembled by a government.

Their human development index (HDI) is self-evident in the eradication of extreme poverty, ten years ahead of schedule of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

In dealing with the scourge of pandemics like Covid-19, the PRC is unshaken in the belief that a people-first approach is the best model for its population.

Is this not a functional approach when new coronavirus variants emerge and threaten, indefinitely, lives and livelihoods for everyone in the world?

Adopting a laissez fair approach of “co-existing with the virus” and not seeking to defeat it, as it is sought to be done with China’s zero-Covid-19 model, it is tantamount to allowing people to perish without cause or reason.

As the secretary-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been at pains to emphasise: “The pandemic is not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere.”

A human rights development path with Chinese characteristics, therefore, speaks to the following strategic issues that are common sense in the PRC and should be so, for the Republic of South Africa.

First, there is need to appreciate the different paths, to human rights development, pursued by different countries and civilisation which require understanding rather than condemnation. Doing otherwise only results in racism, xenophobia, and religious or cultural intolerance.

The RSA can imbibe lessons here as it battles what can appropriately be termed, Afrophobia or persecution of African migrants and refugees running away from conflicts in their own countries and seeking humanitarian refuge here in our country.

Second, mutual respect and mutual understanding should be the basis for cooperation to counter global crises of terrorism, climate inaction, and conflict and war.

That could explain why in the Xinjiang region of China the CPC prioritises policies of de-radicalisation pursued according to the law and consistent with the UN’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

As Foreign Minister of the PRC, Wang Yi, pointed out, “Xinjiang protects the freedom of religious belief for all ethnic groups in the region in accordance with law”.

“There are more than 24 000 mosques in Xinjiang, and that’s one mosque for every 530 Muslims,” in a region in the PRC of more than 25 million inhabitants.

The RSA’s resolve to deal with cross-border terrorism is being tested with the growing threat from Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

Third, it is incumbent upon developed countries to assist developing countries and regions to reduce the world’s development gap.

A “people-centred approach” or what is euphemistically termed “Xiconomics”, is about win-win development to close what President Xi calls, in 2017 at the 19th National Congress of the CPC, “the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life”.

Herein, there is a lesson for South Africa in its existential battle to deal with its record-high inequality which, daily, threatens its project of building a socially cohesive society.

Facts prove that human rights aspects of individual free speech and free elections are meaningless when bread-and-butter matters are reached sustainably so for the majority populace.

| Tembe is a Sinologist and founder of SELE Encounters.

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