Making New Achievements in Protecting Human Rights in the New Era

It has been the tireless pursuit of the Chinese Communists to ensure respect and protection for human rights. Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, the Central Committee, with Xi Jinping at its core, has made respecting and protecting human rights a vital component of China’s governance agenda. Following a people-centered human rights philosophy, it has brought about historic achievements in the cause of human rights in China and pioneered a human rights development path that is in step with our times and well-suited to the Chinese context.

A people-centered human rights philosophy

On December 10, 2018, in a congratulatory letter to a forum marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, President Xi Jinping stated that China adheres to a “people-centered vision” for human rights and that the “ultimate human right is that people can lead a happy life.” At the 37th group study session of the 19th CPC Central Committee Political Bureau on February 25, 2022, he pointed out that the “people-oriented character is the most distinctive feature of China’s human rights development path.”

China’s people-centered human rights philosophy adheres to the central tenets of Marxist historical materialism and builds on Marxist theories on human rights. It is a specific manifestation of the people-centered development philosophy in the sphere of human rights in the new era. It meets the requirements of respecting the principal position of the people and preserving the people-oriented character of human rights in China.

In practice, the people-centered human rights philosophy is reflected in three aspects of China’s human rights development in the new era. First, we ensure that the people run the country and promote the development of whole-process people’s democracy. The people running the country is a notion that sits at the heart of socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics. Whole-process people’s democracy, meanwhile, is not only a vivid illustration of the people running the country but the only path for its implementation. Second, we put the people and human life above all else, ensure the fundamental interests of the broadest majority of people are safeguarded, make the people the chief participants, promoters, and beneficiaries in the development of human rights, and protect the health and safety of the people to the maximum extent possible. Third, we regard the right to lead a happy life as the ultimate human right. With the people’s aspirations for a better life as our goal, we view the rights to subsistence and development as the primary basic human rights and work continuously to resolve the tension between imbalanced and inadequate development and people’s growing desire for a better life, so that all Chinese people will enjoy a fuller and fairer share of the country’s development.

In giving expression to the founding mission of the CPC, the values and aspirations of all humanity, and a path forward for human rights development, this philosophy is endowed with several obvious advantages.

Equality

All humankind aspires to build a society in which everyone is equal. This is also the noble goal of socialism with Chinese characteristics. In line with the people-centered human rights philosophy, we uphold the people’s principal position, ensure equality for all, promote social fairness and justice, and work to improve people’s wellbeing, thus meeting the people’s aspirations for a better life on an ongoing basis.

Breadth

Protecting the fundamental interests of the broadest majority of people is an innate requirement of Chinese socialism. The people-centered human rights philosophy aims to protect not the rights of a small minority but the most significant majority of people and to realize, protect, and promote their interests.

Practical nature

The people-centered human rights philosophy holds that human rights do not appear out of thin air, nor are they abstract or absolute. Instead, they have a historical, specific, and practical basis. Human rights bear directly on the practical needs of every person. Their development must be, therefore, firmly grounded in reality and focused on resolving real problems and creating a genuine sense of gain for every individual.

Fairness 

Fairness is naturally required if every person is to enjoy human rights. With social fairness and justice as objectives, the people-centered human rights philosophy is geared toward the modernization of China’s national governance system and governance capacity as well as people’s well-rounded development.

Comprehensiveness

In line with the people-centered human rights philosophy, China pursues comprehensive development of human rights, holding that human rights include economic, social, and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights, along with rights concerning peace, development, and the environment.

Inclusivity

A people-centered human rights philosophy does not attempt to use one civilization to define limits for the rich and varied civilizations of the world. Instead, based on tolerance, mutual respect, mutual learning, and shared development between civilizations, it holds that each country should be able to choose a human rights development path suited to its conditions. It opposes double standards and interference in the affairs of other countries on the pretext of human rights. 

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Ambassador Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations, is pictured on screen at UN headquarters in New York, speaking during the General Debate of the Third Committee at the UN General Assembly’s 76th session, October 7, 2021. In his speech, Zhang said that the best answer for China’s human rights situation lay in the happy lives and smiling faces of the Chinese people. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER WANG YING

Protecting and promoting human rights through development

In an address at the General Debate of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly, President Xi Jinping pointed out that we need to “safeguard and improve people’s livelihoods and protect and promote human rights through development, and make sure that development is for the people and by the people, and that its fruits are shared among the people. We should continue our work so that the people will have a greater sense of gain, fulfillment, and security, and achieve well-rounded development.” By drawing an organic link between the ideas of “people,” “development,” and “human rights,” this statement contains the same profound theoretical, historic, and practical logic that has underpinned the unceasing development of human rights in China.

The important experience gained from promoting human rights in China is that we must regard development as having paramount importance, taking it as the central task throughout our Party’s endeavors of governing the country and revitalizing the nation; and in the process of development, make every effort to improve people’s lives, advance their wellbeing, and increase protection for all rights of all people. The choice to protect and promote human rights through development is the right one for China, given its national conditions and the needs of its people. It is also consistent with the Marxist theory on the development of human society and its view of human rights. As a major developing socialist country with the world’s largest population for many years, China faces formidable tasks in development. For China, therefore, the most pressing and most important task is to develop its economy and improve the people’s wellbeing, so as to continuously raise development levels among the entire population. At the same time, the emergence and realization of human rights are based on specific social and economic conditions, which means that we must continually work to protect and promote human rights while pursuing development. At the 37th group study session of the 19th CPC Central Committee Political Bureau, Xi Jinping stressed that we have “implemented the new development philosophy in full and to the letter in every field, pursued a people-centered development approach, and upheld the principle that development is for the people and by the people and that its fruits should be shared by the people. We have striven to resolve the most pressing, most immediate problems of the greatest concern to the people, made every effort to address the imbalances and inadequacies in development, and worked to achieve higher-quality development that is more efficient, equitable, sustainable, and secure, so as to give people a stronger, more assured, and more sustainable sense of gain, fulfillment, and security.” 

The rights to subsistence and development are primary basic human rights. 

Marxism emphasizes the importance of material production in guaranteeing subsistence and development, holding that it must always remain a top priority because people cannot survive without proper material support. Subsistence, therefore, is the basis for all human rights, while development is the prerequisite for subsistence. The rights to subsistence and development are thus the rights intended to guarantee basic survival and life itself.

The ultimate human right is the right to lead a happy life.

The right to a happy life, predicated on guaranteeing the rights to subsistence and development, represents a reinforcement of these two rights and a more holistic conception of human rights. The right to a happy life includes both material and intellectual aspects. It incorporates rights to subsistence and development along with economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights to form an all-embracing whole.

Human rights should be promoted in coordination to achieve comprehensive progress.

Based on ensuring stronger protection for people’s rights to subsistence and development and on continuous improvements in living standards, we must strive to coordinate the advancement of human rights in all realms to create more suitable conditions for promoting people’s well-rounded development and demonstrate the strengths of the socialist system.

Human rights should promote the full development of personal freedom.

Marx’s major proposition that the future would bring “a society in which the full and free development of every individual forms the ruling principle” envisions an ideal type of society. By achieving a moderately prosperous society in all respects, China has laid a sound foundation for every individual to enjoy full and free development. Our efforts to build China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful will further create favorable conditions for realizing this goal.

It has been proven in practice that the approach of protecting and promoting human rights through development and strengthening human rights protection during the development process to achieve higher-standard, more substantive, and more comprehensive human rights protection is a highly effective tool for promoting human rights in China and represents a significant contribution by China to the global cause of human rights.

China’s historic human rights achievements

Since the 18th National Congress of CPC, China has achieved historic success in its human rights cause under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee led by Xi Jinping. The protection of all human rights of the Chinese people has been advanced by a vast margin, representing a remarkable accomplishment in the world history of human rights development.

Historic progress has been made in ensuring people’s subsistence and development rights.

Through our efforts to resolve the imbalances and inadequacies in development, we have continued to meet the people’s increasing needs for a better life. We secured victory in the battle against poverty on schedule, thus lifting almost 100 million people in rural areas out of poverty and bringing about a historic resolution to the problem of absolute poverty in China. This achievement allowed the entire Chinese population to enter moderate prosperity together and represented a miraculous accomplishment in the history of poverty alleviation. In 2021, based on the average annual exchange rate, the total aggregate of China’s economy reached US$17.7 trillion, and per-capita GDP grew to US$12,551, surpassing the world’s average per-capita level. China now has the largest middle-income group in the world.

Protection for people’s economic, social, and cultural rights has been greatly advanced.

Focused on ensuring and improving people’s wellbeing, we have intensified social development to better satisfy people’s expectations for high living standards and their increasing desire for a better life in various areas. China has built the world’s most extensive education, social security, and medical insurance systems. People’s right to education and basic cultural rights are now better guaranteed. The Healthy China initiative has delivered significant progress, and the living conditions of residents have greatly improved. Currently, the coverage of China’s nine-year compulsory education exceeds the average level among high-income countries, and higher education has become widely accessible based on international standards. The average life expectancy in China in 2020 was 77.93 years, 1.59 years higher than the 2015 figure of 76.34, placing China in the front ranks among middle- and high-income countries. Continuous progress has been made in ensuring equal access to basic public health services, and the standard of health enjoyed by Chinese residents is broadly higher than the average standards in middle- and high-income countries. Adhering to the principle of putting the people and human life above all else, we have prioritized people’s health and safety to secure major strategic success in Covid-19 response.

The right of the people to run the country has been further consolidated.

While preserving the unity between the leadership by the CPC, the people running the country, and law-based governance, we have developed whole-process people’s democracy, improved the institutions and systems for ensuring that the people run the country, created open and well-organized channels for democracy, and enriched the forms of democracy. This has enabled all Chinese people to engage in law-based democratic elections, consultations, decision-making, management, and oversight, and better secured their rights to manage state, economic, cultural, and social affairs in various ways and forms according to the law. People’s orderly and law-based political participation has been continuously expanded, and their democratic life has become richer and more varied. Whole-process people’s democracy has allowed the principle of the people running the country to be fully realized in national political and social activities. The strengths of China’s unique socialist political system have thus been brought fully into play.

Legal protections for human rights have been advanced across the board.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the Central Committee has made a sustained effort to bolster legal protections for human rights by making comprehensive law-based governance part of the Four-Pronged Comprehensive Strategy and ensuring that the people’s interests, wishes, rights, and wellbeing are attended to throughout the process of law-based governance. The socialist legal system with the Constitution at its core has been steadily improved, thus providing a solid foundation for realizing the law-based protection of human rights. The compilation and adoption of the Civil Code have further improved the systems for guaranteeing civil rights, provided legal protections for citizens’ property rights, and ensured proper protection of human dignity in a standalone section dedicated to personality rights. There has also been critical progress in developing law-based government and breakthroughs have been made in reforming the judicial system. This has allowed the people to feel that justice and fairness are upheld in every aspect of the legal system, every law enforcement decision, and every judicial case.

Protection for people’s environmental rights has improved significantly.

Environmental rights are an essential element of human rights. Upholding the notion that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets, we have bolstered ecological protection in all sectors, regions, and processes. With the campaigns to prevent and control pollution and improve rural living environments, we have resolved pronounced environmental issues of deep concern to the people, improved living environments, and effected historic and sweeping changes in China’s environmental protection. People now enjoy clearer skies, greener mountains, cleaner waters, and better air. In 2020, China surpassed its targets for reducing total emissions of major pollutants; the proportion of days with good or excellent air quality in cities at and above prefectural level was 87%; the proportion of surface water with a good rating (at or above Grade III) increased to 83.4% nationwide. National forest coverage reached 23.04%, and the forest stock volume rose to 17.5 billion cubic meters.

Stronger protections have been introduced for the rights of special groups.

We have provided special protection for designated groups, including ethnic minorities, women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. We have made every effort to ensure all of them can participate fully in economic, political, cultural, and social life on an equal footing, pursue self-development with dignity, and access opportunities to fulfill their potential and realize their dreams. At the end of 2020, China’s 28 ethnic groups with the smallest populations were entirely lifted out of poverty, as were the 420 poor counties in ethnic autonomous localities. Ethnic autonomous areas are moving closer to the average national standards for resident income, compulsory education, medical and health services, and social security. In 2021, maternal and infant mortality rates were reduced to 16.1 per 100,000 and 5 per 1,000, respectively. China has been recognized by the World Health Organization as one of 10 fast-track countries in improving women’s and children’s health. The rate of participation among people with disabilities in urban and rural areas has exceeded 90% for basic old-age insurance and 95% for basic medical insurance. Protections for the rights and interests of older people have increased to ensure better care, support, recreation, and security for the elderly.

China’s participation in global human rights governance has been considerably strengthened.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress, under the guidance of Xi Jinping’s vision for building a global community of shared future, China has engaged in genuine multilateralism, played an active role in the reform and development of global governance systems, including human rights, and poured significant energy into making global human rights governance fairer, more reasonable, and more inclusive. The concept of “building a global community of shared future” has been included in many official documents of the United Nations. Furthermore, proposals like the Belt and Road Initiative, the global community of health for all, and a community of life for man and Nature have offered Chinese insights and Chinese approaches for the tasks of global development and human rights protection. In recent years, China, both at the UN Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, has frustrated numerous underhanded attempts by Western countries to target China concerning Xinjiang and Hong Kong and has done so with overwhelming support, thus fully protecting our national interests and dignity. China has also submitted numerous well-reasoned proposals to the Human Rights Council on protecting the rights of people in all countries to subsistence, development, and health, which have received strong support from developing countries.

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A passenger holds up a ticket for the No. 5633/4 train operating on the Chengdu–Kunming line, November 16, 2021. Traveling at an average speed of less than 40 km/h, the train runs between Puxiong in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture and Panzhihua, both in Sichuan Province. With the most expensive fare costing just 26.5 yuan and the cheapest as low as 2 yuan, the train provides commuter services for school children living in the Daliang Mountains and ethnic Yi people traveling to market. It is recognized as a symbol of ethnic solidarity and progress in the region. CHINA HUMAN RIGHTS PHOTO / PHOTO BY LIU GUOXING

China’s contribution to the global human rights

President Xi has spoken of the need to uphold the shared values of humanity, follow the principles of equality, mutual trust, inclusiveness, mutual learning, win-win cooperation, and joint development, and steer global human rights governance toward greater equality, fairness, equity, and inclusiveness. Seeking to play a constructive role, China will actively participate in UN work on human rights and extensively engage in exchanges and cooperation on human rights with all countries, particularly developing countries. As the world’s second-largest economy, the world’s largest developing country, an ancient civilization with enduring historical and cultural traditions, and a socialist country led by a communist party, China is set to achieve yet further historic success in the sphere of human rights in the new era. This success will hold important significance for the global cause of human rights and the progress of humanity.

Contributing positivity

China accounts for about one-fifth of the world’s entire population, so the continuous improvement in the protection of human rights in China itself represents a significant contribution to human progress. China has brought about a historic resolution to absolute poverty, achieved a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and fulfilled its poverty reduction targets of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 10 years ahead of schedule. These achievements have contributed significantly to advancing the global cause of poverty reduction and common development worldwide. In addition to benefiting citizens at home, China’s development and progress in the new era have been beneficial for the world in general and done much to boost the overall wellbeing of humanity. China will continue to pursue development through cooperation and protect human rights through development, with the aim of promoting the common development of all countries and universal prosperity for humankind. With respect to promoting common development and ensuring people’s wellbeing, China is increasingly becoming a critical anchor of stability and source of momentum for the world economy. Based on the average annual exchange rate in 2021, China’s economy accounted for over 18% of the world total and contributed about 25% of global economic growth. According to a report by the World Bank, the Belt and Road Initiative could help 7.6 million people in participating countries escape extreme poverty and lift a further 32 million people out of moderate poverty. China has established agencies like the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund and the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development as part of a proactive push to develop practical cooperation. Under the South-South cooperation framework, China has also lent as much assistance as possible to other developing countries. To help build a global community of health for all amid the formidable spread of Covid-19, China has implemented the most extensive global humanitarian program since the founding of the PRC in 1949 and has chosen to make Chinese-produced vaccines available as a global public good, with priority given to the needs of developing countries. This represents China’s contribution to the worldwide fight against Covid-19. By the end of March 2022, China had supplied 2.2 billion vaccine doses to more than 120 countries and international organizations, making it the world’s largest national provider of Covid-19 vaccines. In addition, it has also provided a vast quantity of protective materials to the international community. To promote a community of life for man and Nature, China has worked alongside the international community to implement its national strategy for actively responding to climate change and pushed forward various climate change adaption and mitigation initiatives. It has also taken accelerated steps to shift to a green and low-carbon development model, along with determined action to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement. In 2020, the volume of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP had dropped by about 48.4% from 2005, helping China surpass the relevant target concerning its commitment to the international community on responding to climate change.

Contributing Chinese wisdom

Human rights are an important achievement and hallmark of human civilization. Many important ideas from Chinese culture, such as benevolence and amity, putting people first, harmony and coexistence, unity between nature and man, a moderately prosperous society, and a world of great harmony, are also important intellectual achievements of humanity. In the new era, we have applied the Marxist outlook on human rights to China’s specific realities and integrated it with the best of traditional Chinese culture, applied the universality of human rights in the Chinese context, and put forward a range of original human rights concepts that have Chinese characteristics, style, and vision, as well as contemporary features, and thus opened a human rights development path that moves with the times and fits with Chinese conditions. China’s people-centered human rights philosophy draws on the outstanding achievements of human civilization and the principle of universal human rights while also being fundamentally distinct from the human rights outlook of Western capitalism. The philosophy transcends the narrow-mindedness and limitations of the Western perspective, replacing the concept of “natural rights” with people’s rights, and absolute and abstract rights with specific and practical rights. It thus realizes rights that are more genuine and comprehensive, and that truly protect the immediate interests of the greatest majority of people. China’s socialist approach to human rights in the new era upholds the leadership of the CPC and the socialist system in respecting and protecting human rights. It respects the people’s principal position, protects and promotes human rights through development, strikes an even balance between collective and individual rights, and champions mutual learning and common development between civilizations. This approach has worked for the Chinese people in practice, greatly enriched humanity’s means for developing human rights, and opened new horizons for the cause of human rights of the world.

 

Lu Guangjin is Secretary-General of the China Society for Human Rights Studies.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 12, 2022)

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