Table of Contents
- China’s Inclusive View of Human Rights
- Tackling Poverty Through Human Rights Cooperation
- Tackling Conflicts Through Human Rights Cooperation
Estimated Reading Time
- 17.5 min
The most noticeable global human rights problems in the world today are poverty and conflict and these two problems are also of the greatest magnitude. Poverty and conflict pose serious challenges to the protection of fundamental human rights such as the rights to food and life, not to mention other human rights. China is committed to “conduct[ing] international exchanges and cooperation in the field of human rights on the basis of equality and mutual respect”, as stated in the “human rights” provision of the Foreign Relations Law of the People’s Republic of China,1 and aims at working together with countries around the world to find solutions to tackle these two major problems.
China’s Inclusive View of Human Rights
“There are three reasons for China to emphasize ‘conduct[ing] international exchanges and cooperation in the field of human rights on the basis of equality and mutual respect’.”
There are three reasons for China to emphasize “conduct[ing] international exchanges and cooperation in the field of human rights on the basis of equality and mutual respect”.
First, there is not just one single approach to human rights in the world. The phrase “天下同归而殊途，一致而百虑” (tianxia tonggui er shutu, yizhi er bailü) stated in Yi Zhuan essentially means that there are many different methods and considerations to handle many things, but these methods and considerations can ultimately lead to the same result.2 The Doctrine of the Mean states that “万物并育而不相害[，]道并行而不相悖” (wanwu bingyu er bu xianghai, dao bingxing er bu xiangbei) —all living things grow together without harming each other [,] paths run in parallel without conflicts”.3 This suggests that harmonious coexistence is the ultimate state of governance. In the world today, there are more than 200 countries/areas,4 with a total population of more than 8 billion.5 These countries/areas differ in their histories, cultures, and social systems. The solutions for the protection of human rights cannot be uniform across all countries/areas. To evaluate the appropriateness and effectiveness of a particular approach to human rights, it is crucial to consider whether the approach is embraced and supported by the people, whether it can bring about political stability, social progress, and improvement of people’s livelihood, and whether it can contribute to the healthy development of the international undertaking on the protection of human rights.
Second, when facing different approaches to human rights, countries around the world must not discriminate against particular approaches but must show sympathy and understanding. Traditional Chinese culture emphasizes “harmony despite differences”,6 i.e., all parties respect different opinions and get along harmoniously. Through human rights dialogues and exchanges, a country should take the initiative to learn from other countries’ approaches to human rights and enhance understanding, rather than requesting that other countries follow that country’s approach only. This is the principle stated in the Book of Rites: “礼，闻来学，不闻往教” (li, wen lai xue, bu wen wang jiao)—regarding rites, it is heard that one comes to learn but never heard that one goes to teach.7
Third, when facing different approaches to human rights, countries around the world must not just avoid conflicts, but should establish a basis for understanding and seek consensus to allow all parties to unite and actively solve problems so as to truly achieve “harmony despite differences”. Confucius said, “己欲立而立人，己欲达而达人” (ji yuli er liren, ji yuda er daren)—when you want to gain a foothold, help others to also gain their footholds; when you want to thrive, help others to also thrive.8 This is a win-win strategy. A reasonable approach to human rights is one that emphasizes reciprocity to benefit others and oneself. Only through sincere communication and in-depth exchanges in the field of human rights and through joint efforts to find consensus can we continuously promote the healthy development of the international undertaking on the protection of human rights.
Tackling Poverty Through Human Rights Cooperation
Poverty has already undermined the protection of many people’s right to food. According to the Food Security Information Network’s Global Report on Food Crises 2023, nearly 258 million people in the 58 “food-crisis” countries/territories analyzed in the report were “acutely food-insecure” and “required urgent food assistance”. People in seven of these countries (i.e., Somalia, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, and Haiti) faced “extreme lack of food”.9
There are two main causes of poverty. The first cause is the stagnation of development. According to the Human Development Report 2021-2022 published by the United Nations Development Programme (“UNDP”), the Human Development Index (HDI) values of more than 90% of all countries decreased in 2020 or 2021. The HDI is a measure of a country’s health, education, and standard of living. In fact, for the first time since the HDI was launched by the UNDP more than 30 years ago, the global HDI value has declined for two consecutive years (i.e., 2020 and 2021).10
The second cause is climate change. In July 2023, Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered a speech, emphasizing that “[e]xtreme weather events, and disasters caused by climate change, wiped out crops, herds, fisheries, and entire ecosystems”. He pointed out that 828 million people worldwide faced hunger in 2021. He continued to state that climate change will worsen this problem and, by the middle of this century, the number of people facing hunger will increase by another 80 million.11
In light of these two main causes of poverty, China, based on the principle of “conduct[ing] international exchanges and cooperation in the field of human rights on the basis of equality and mutual respect”, has adopted the following plans to help the world tackle poverty:
(1) Work Together with Countries Around the World to Accomplish the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
Over the past few decades, China has been the most populous developing country in the world and has felt the pain of poverty.12 On February 25, 2021, President XI Jinping announced that China, which accounts for nearly one-fifth of the world’s population, completed the arduous task of eradicating extreme poverty. This marks China’s accomplishment of the poverty reduction goals set forth in The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by the United Nations in September 2015, ten years ahead of schedule.13 China’s efforts from 2012 to the end of 2020 are particularly notable. In 2012, there were 98.99 million people living below the poverty line in rural China. By the end of 2020, all these people were lifted out of poverty.14
Drawing on its own experience in poverty eradication, China supports and helps developing countries eradicate poverty through various means such as foreign aid, project cooperation, technology diffusion, and exchanges among think tanks. In 2016, the United Nations Peace and Development Trust Fund was established after the Chinese government’s pledge to donate USD 200 million to the United Nations. The fund has two sub-funds, one of which is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Sub-Fund, which aims to provide funding for activities supporting the achievement of the goals set forth in The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.15 As of 2021, the sub-fund has launched and implemented more than 40 projects in three major areas, namely, economy, society, and the environment, giving strong push towards the global implementation of the agenda.16
To further support developing countries in meeting the goals set forth in The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, China announced in September 2015 the establishment of the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund and provided USD 2 billion at that time and another USD 1 billion in May 2017.17 In June 2022, when President Xi Jinping presided over the High-Level Dialogue on Global Development, he announced that the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund was to be upgraded to become the Global Development and South-South Cooperation Fund, to which China contributed another USD 1 billion, in addition to the aforementioned USD 3 billion, for supporting cooperation on global development initiatives.18 These funds provided by China have already supported more than 100 development and cooperation projects related to disaster relief, health, women and children, refugees, and environmental protection. These projects have been undertaken in more than 50 countries in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
(2) Work Together with Countries Around the World to Promote Global Climate Cooperation
Record-setting temperatures, fires, floods, and storms that have occurred around the world in recent years have impelled nearly 140 countries and areas to express their commitments to carbon neutrality through legislation, policy announcements, or other means. China has also indicated such commitment. By actively implementing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the related Paris Agreement, the Chinese government has formulated and put in practice its long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategy.19
Because the development needs and transition processes differ from one country to another, it is difficult to require all countries to take a unified step to promote carbon neutrality. However, governments must show solidarity to actively combat climate change through cooperation. The Chinese government has, therefore, been actively participating in the formulation of international rules and standards as well as promoting the establishment of a fair, reasonable, cooperative, and win-win global climate governance system.20 In addition, noting the special climate change situations facing Pacific island countries, the Chinese government supports these countries in the implementation of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent so as to contribute to the building of a “peaceful, harmonious, secure, inclusive, and prosperous Blue Pacific”.21
Tackling Conflicts Through Human Rights Cooperation
Peace is the prerequisite for human development. Without peace, the right to life cannot be realized, let alone the realization of the right to development. Although peace and development became the world’s main areas of focus at the end of the 20th century, the 21st century has seen the outbreak of armed conflicts and even wars in different parts of the world. These conflicts and wars are rooted in causes such as political interests, geopolitical relations, ethnic conflicts, and religious strife. Wars have led to enormous human suffering and exacerbated the fragility of the current global economy.
“In order to tackle conflicts, China’s experience shows that all countries in the world must focus on the following three tasks […].”
In order to tackle conflicts, China’s experience shows that all countries in the world must focus on the following three tasks:
(1) Jointly Safeguard the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations Charter,22 the International System with the United Nations at its Core, and the International Order with International Law as its Basis
History and reality have proven that the international order with international law as its basis is the cornerstone for facilitating international relations to become more democratic, rule-of-law-based, and rational as well as for advancing world peace and development. China has ratified or acceded to 26 international human rights instruments, including six core human rights treaties of the United Nations such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,23 the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,24 and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.25 China has strictly abided by the provisions of the treaties, conscientiously fulfilled its treaty obligations, paid attention to bringing the country’s legislation, law amendments, and policies in line with the provisions of the treaties, and submitted its implementation reports in a timely manner to comprehensively show China’s achievements and problems encountered in the process of implementing the treaties.
(2) Jointly Pursue Peaceful Resolution of Disputes
Peaceful resolution of conflicts, efforts to resolve crises, as well as diplomacy and dialogue are all crucial. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China actively participates in the political settlement of international and regional issues causing friction. Earlier this year, with China’s mediation, Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to resume diplomatic relations and reached a settlement. As of today, China is the second largest contributor to United Nations peacekeeping funds, and is, among all the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the country that has provided the most peacekeepers.26 Over the past 30 years, at the invitation of the United Nations, China has dispatched more than 50,000 peacekeeping military personnel to more than 20 countries and areas, including South Sudan, Lebanon, and Cambodia, and participated in nearly 30 United Nations peacekeeping operations.27
(3) Jointly Promote the Process of International Arms Control, Disarmament, and Non-Proliferation
China has signed or acceded to more than 20 multilateral arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation treaties, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.28 Other countries should also resolutely uphold the international nuclear non-proliferation system, which is based on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and jointly strengthen dialogue and cooperation among nuclear-weapon states to reduce the risk of nuclear war. It is worth noting that the five nuclear-weapon states, i.e., China, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and France, issued in 2022 the Joint Statement of the Leaders of the Five Nuclear-Weapon States on Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races, expressing their consensus that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”.29 Through dialogue and cooperation, countries around the world can help put this consensus into practice.
The core principle of the above three tasks for tackling conflicts is “conduct[ing] international exchanges and cooperation in the field of human rights on the basis of equality and mutual respect”, as stated in the “human rights” provision of the Foreign Relations Law of the People’s Republic of China.
The world today is one that evokes anxiety. All types of global events—wars, epidemics, terrorist activities, and climate change, to name a few—tell people in shocking ways that human society is a community with shared risks. Peace is the foundation of development and vice versa. Without peaceful development, there will be no realization of the rights to life and development. History tells us that when human value is lacking, it is often the time when evil prevails; when evil prevails, it is often also the time when human value is demonstrated.
In times of poverty, people pursue food and clothing; in times of war, people yearn for peace. The world is undergoing major changes unseen in a century and the destiny of humankind is closely related. People of all countries should uphold the concept of “one world, one family” to jointly promote the construction of a community with a shared future for humankind. Such a community is not only a community with shared values that pursues universal human rights, but also a community with shared interests that resolves conflicts of interest and pursues common interests. Human rights are not to be used as a tool of confrontation in foreign relations, but as a moral platform for countries’ cooperation and mutual learning, and as a bond for building a community with a shared future for humankind.
† The citation of this article is: Professor Lifeng Wang, China’s Approach to the Global Governance of Human Rights, SINOTALKS.COM®, SinoForum&Foresight™, Aug. 30, 2023, https://sinotalks.com/sinoforumforesight/202308-wang-lifeng-human-rights.
The original, Chinese version of this article was edited by Dr. Mei Gechlik. The English version was prepared by members of the Editorial Board of SINOTALKS®, and was finalized by Nathan Harpainter and Dr. Mei Gechlik. The information and views set out in this article are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the work or views of SINOTALKS®.
1《中华人民共和国对外关系法》 (Foreign Relations Law of the People’s Republic of China), passed and issued on June 28, 2023, effective as of July 1, 2023, https://www.gov.cn/yaowen/liebiao/202306/content_6888929.htm. Article 22 provides:
The People’s Republic of China respects and protects human rights, persists in combining the principle of universality of human rights with the reality of the country, promotes the comprehensive and coordinated development of human rights, conducts international exchanges and cooperation in the field of human rights on the basis of equality and mutual respect, and promotes the healthy development of the international undertaking on the protection of human rights.
2 See 《易传· 系辞传下》 (Yi Zhuan·Xici Zhuan Part II), Chapter 5, 《古诗文网》(www.gushiwen.cn), https://so.gushiwen.cn/guwen/bookv_46653FD803893E4FF395690249869B57.aspx. Yi Zhuan is a commentary on 《易经》 (Book of Changes or I Ching), which is an ancient Chinese divination text. “天下同归而殊途，一致而百虑” can be translated as “under heaven, the same destination can be reached by taking different paths, and consistency can emerge from different considerations”.
3 See 《中庸》 (Doctrine of the Mean), Chapter 30, 《古诗文网》 (www.gushiwen.cn), https://so.gushiwen.cn/guwen/bookv_46653FD803893E4F7DAE5C76CD46A3A9.aspx. The Doctrine of the Mean is one of the “Four Books”, which are the authoritative texts of Confucianism.
6 This is extracted from “君子和而不同，小人同而不和” (gentlemen are harmonious but different, villains are the same but not harmonious). See 《论语 · 子路篇》 (The Analects of Confucius · Zilu),《古诗文网》 (www.gushiwen.cn), https://so.gushiwen.cn/guwen/bookv_46653FD803893E4F405ACAB307224041.aspx.
7 See 《礼记 · 曲礼上》 (Book of Rites · Quli Part I), 《古诗文网》 (www.gushiwen.cn), https://so.gushiwen.cn/guwen/bookv_46653FD803893E4F90087631A264778C.aspx.
8 See 《论语 · 雍也篇》 (The Analects of Confucius · Yong Ye), 《古诗文网》 (www.gushiwen.cn), https://so.gushiwen.cn/guwen/bookv_46653FD803893E4F89215E11979D4F9F.aspx.
9 Food Security Information Network, Global Report on Food Crises 2023, https://www.fsinplatform.org/global-report-food-crises-2023. See also Around 258 Million Need Emergency Food Aid: UN-Backed Report, UN News, May 3, 2023, https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/05/1136332.
10 United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2021-22, https://hdr.undp.org/content/human-development-report-2021-22.
11 High Commissioner for Human Rights: the Environment is Dying and the Right to Food is Comprehensively Threatened by Climate Change – the World Demands Action Now, UN News, July 3, 2023, https://www.ohchr.org/en/news/2023/07/high-commissioner-human-rights-environment-dying-and-right-food-comprehensively.
12 See, e.g., 联合国预估印度4月份将成为世界人口最多的国家 (UN Predicts India Will Become the World’s Most Populous Country in April), 《人民网》(people.cn), Apr. 25, 2023, http://world.people.com.cn/n1/2023/0425/c1002-32673187.html.
14 The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, White Paper Titled Poverty Alleviation: China’s Experience and Contribution, Apr. 6, 2021, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2021-04/06/c_139860414.htm.
17 国家国际发展合作署 (China International Development Cooperation Agency), 南南合作援助基金简介 (Introduction to the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund), Aug. 24, 2018, http://www.cidca.gov.cn/2018-08/24/c_129939202.htm.
18 国家国际发展合作署 (China International Development Cooperation Agency), “为加速落实联合国2030议程注入强大信心和动力”(“Injecting Strong Confidence and Motivation to Accelerate the Implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda”), July 7, 2023, http://www.cidca.gov.cn/2023-07/07/c_1212241929.htm.
19 The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, White Paper Titled Responding to Climate Change: China’s Policies and Actions, Oct. 27, 2021, http://english.scio.gov.cn/whitepapers/2021-10/27/content_77836502_4.htm. See also China’s Mid-Century Long-Term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy, Oct. 2021, https://unfccc.int/documents/307765.
20 White Paper Titled Responding to Climate Change: China’s Policies and Actions, supra note 19.
21 Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping Meets with Prime Minister of Solomon Islands Manasseh Sogavare, July 10, 2023, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/202307/t20230717_11114181.html.
22 United Nations, United Nations Charter, https://www.un.org/en/about-us/un-charter/full-text.
23 United Nations, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/international-covenant-economic-social-and-cultural-rights.
24 United Nations, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-elimination-all-forms-discrimination-against-women.
25 United Nations, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/international-convention-elimination-all-forms-racial.
26 See, e.g., 唐梓翔 (TANG Zixiang), 为维护世界和平贡献更多中国力量 (Contributing More Chinese Power to Safeguard World Peace), 《人民网》(people.cn), May 29, 2022, http://politics.people.com.cn/n1/2022/0529/c1001-32433153.html.
27 2023年4月17日外交部发言人汪文斌主持例行记者会 (Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s Regular Press Conference on April 17, 2023),《中华人民共和国驻利比亚大使馆网站》 (ly.china-embassy.gov.cn), http://ly.china-embassy.gov.cn/fyrth/202304/t20230417_11060477.htm.
29 Joint Statement of the Leaders of the Five Nuclear-Weapon States on Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races, People’s Daily Online, Jan. 4, 2022, http://en.people.cn/n3/2022/0104/c90000-9940236.html.
Consultation, Training, & Speaking Engagements
If you need strategic solutions to problems affecting your business/professional activities in China and/or beyond, contact us at email@example.com. We will be delighted to offer our assistance through consultation, customized training, and/or speaking engagements.